The Priory and Church of St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield.
On the east side of Smithfield, and also of (formerly Duc Lane, and ) stood the ancient Priory of St. Bartholomew, founded by Rahere, a pleasant witty gentleman, and therefore in his time called the King's Jester, or Minstrel, about or rather after the year , the of Henry I, for Canons of the Order of St. Augustin; himself became their prior, in , and so continued to his death, in .
This Rahere having spent his youth in noblemen's houses and the king's palace, by his facetious behaviour and manners, became familiar as well with his prince as with the nobility at court. At length, repenting of the follies and vanities of his younger years, and wishing to attain a full remission of all his sins, he went to Rome, where he heartily bewailed his former course of life, and promised amendment for the future; but, while he remained there, falling very sick, and thinking he should die, he made a solemn vow to build a hospital for the poor, if it should please God to restore him to his health.
Having recovered, he returned homeward, in order to perform his vow; and, as he was on his journey, being night asleep, he seemed to be carried by a monstrous creature, that had feet and wings, and placed on a very high precipice, where, just under him, he saw a horrible pit, which had no bottom: he (conscious of his ill life) imagining himself just falling into it, in a great horror cried out; upon which there appeared to him a man, with majesty in his countenance and of wonderful beauty, who asked him what he would give to be delivered out of so great danger of death; and he answered, that he would give all that ever he could; the man then told him, that he was Bartholomew, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and came to succour him in his distress, and to discover the secrets of a heavenly mystery to him.
said St. Bartholomew,
and, after having told him how propitious God would be to those faithful people who should offer up their prayers in his temple, encouraged him to go on with the work, not troubling himself about the cost, and with a promise that he should be the lord and patron of it, he vanished.
Rahere awaked, and was in great doubt with himself, whether he should take this for a fantastic illusion, or a heavenly oracle; but at last, after some dispute within himself, inclined to the latter, and resolved to obey it as a command from Heaven. Home he came, and was joyfully received by his friends and acquaintances, to whom he discovered his vision and his design thereupon, and consulted with them how to go about so great a work; when they (some of them being citizens of London) informing him that he must get the king's license; and the rather, because the ground, whereon he was by St. Bartholomew appointed to build, was the king's: he thereupon applied himself to the court; and, by the assistance of Richard, Bishop of London, obtained both the king's title to the ground and his permission to build what he intended thereupon.
Having thus far succeeded, he set himself heartily to work to clear the ground (which for the most part was moorish and full of water and mud, and on what was dry of it, was the common place of execution) and to get stones and other materials ready for his building. To aid this, he feigned himself an idiot or fool (concealing what his design was), and by playing the changeling, got a great company of rabble about him; whom, by his own example, he daily employed to clear the ground, and bring stones and other necessaries to this place; till, at last, having gotten what he thought requisite, he discovered what were his intentions. In performance of his vow, he built the hospital, in ; and after, in obedience to the heavenly vision, the church and priory, which he finished in , both in memory of St. Bartholomew, and had the church consecrated by Richard de Belmies, Bishop of London.
Rahere, having thus finished this Priory of St. Bartholomew, placed therein Canons Regular of the Order of St. Augustin, and became the prior thereof himself. Here, after he had continued prior near years, he died, and his body was buried on the north side of the chancel of this his own church, over which a fair monument was erected; it was afterward renewed by William Bolton, the last prior but of this house, and remains very fresh to the present time. His effigy lies at length, in his monastical habit, having a monk kneeling on each side of it, with a Bible in their hands, open at the chapter of Isaiah, and an angel standing at his feet, with a coronet and an emblazoned shield; underneath, on the edge of the slab, is the following inscription, and below this are armorial bearings.
These Canons Regular, otherwise called Black Canons, of the Order of St. Austin, pretended their founder to be Saint Augustin of Hippo, who, say they, erected a monastery of clerks and priests, with whom he himself lived and conversed, and gave them a rule how they should live with propriety, and that they should promise the ordinary vows of religious men. These were the Canons of the Order of St. Augustin; but, in process of time, growing dissolute, and far diverting from the rule of St. Augustin and their old constitution, another sort of Canons did succeed in their places; and, by more nearly following the prescript of the rule, were called the Regular Canons, who were not eminent till the century, and not in England till after the Conquest.
Rahere having, it seems, contracted many enemies, who confederated against him to take away his life; upon discovery thereof to him, by of the confederacy, addressed himself to king Henry I., who took him under his protection; and in order thereto, granted him the following charter.
In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I Henry, King of England, to William, Archbishop of Canterbury, and George, Bishop of London, and to all bishops, and abbots, and earls, justiciary barons, sheriffs, and ministers, and to all men, and their lieges, and to the citizens of London, greeting.
Know ye, that I have granted, and by this my charter confirmed, to the church of St. Bartholomew, London, and to Rahere the Prior, and Canons Regular, in the same church serving God, and to the poor of the hospital of the same church, that they be free from all earthly servitude and earthly power and subjection, except episcopal customs, to wit, only consecration of the church, baptism, and ordination of clerks; and that as any church in all England is free, so this church be free, and all the lands to it appertaining, which it now has, or which Rahere the Prior, or the Canons, may be able reasonably to acquire, whether by purchase or by gift, and have soccage and saccage, and thol and theme, and infogheneteof; and all liberties and free customs and acquittances in all things which belong to the same church, in wood and in plain, in meadow and pastures, in water and mills, in ways and paths, in pools and parks, in moors and fisheries, in granges and shrubberies, within and without, and in all places now and for ever.
And this church, with all things that appertain unto the same, know ye that I will to maintain and defend, and to be free as my crown, and to have taken in my hand in defence against all men. Wherefore I grant to Rahere, and to the same church, in all its own rights and possession, the breach of peace and skirmish made in the house, and the invasion of house or court, and all forfeitures in its own jurisdiction made, and forestall and flemenefermden, in the way and without, in the fend and without, in the city and without: also, that it may have discussions of causes and the rights of causes concerning all plea which may happen in their land, and all customs, whether in ecclesiasticals or seculars, as fully and freely as I should have of my own domain and table. I release also and acquit Rahere the prior, and the aforesaid church and all belonging to the same, of shire and
|of pleas, and plaints and murders, and scutage, and gold and Danegelds, and hydages, and sarts and assizes, and castle works, or the rebuilding of castles and bridges, of enclosing parks, of removing woods or other things, of fordwit and hengwit, of ward-penny and ave-penny, and bloodwite, and fightwite, and childwite, of -penny, and thring-penny, and manbratre, and mischinige, and schewinge, and frithsoke, and westgeiltheof, of warden and outlawry, and forefenge, and whitfonge; and they be quit in all my land of the tollage and passage, and pontage, and lastage, and stallage, and of all secular service in land and in water, and ports of the sea, so that they be loaded with no burdens of expedition, or occasions or aids of sheriffs or reeves of the , or pontifical ministers. I prohibit also by my authority royal, that no men, whether my minister or any other in my whole land, be troublesome to Rahere the prior, or the aforesaid church, concerning any thing which belongs thereto; and that no man, of the clergy or laity, presume to usurp dominion of that place, or introduce himself without the consent of the prior or brethren.|
I confirm also all privileges and donations and charters, both which it has or is about to have, from kings, from popes, or other faithful persons whatsoever. And whatsoever shall be remembered and proved to have been justly granted and acquired by the same church, by writing or by the testimonies of good men, that no person presume, upon any pretence, claim, judgment, or power, to take or disperse the same.
But after the death of Rahere the prior, out of the same congregation let be chosen he who be worthy; but let no be chosen elsewhere by the exaction of the popes or princes, unless on account of manifest crimes no can be found worthy of such office, which if it should happen, which God forbid! let them have the power of choosing a prior from some other known and familiar place. But the possessions which have been there given, or purchased by any persons, whether separated from the church by the consent of the chapter, or reduced to a small service, may be recalled by our royal privilege and authority, and that place perpetually defended by the protection of kings. And let the prior himself, serving the king alone, abundantly cherish, with spiritual and temporal food, the flock committed to him.
I grant also my firm peace to all persons coming to and returning from the fair, which is wont to be celebrated in that place at the feast of Saint Bartholomew; and I forbid any of the royal servants to send to implead any of their persons, them in the plea, or without the consent of the comers on those days, to wit, the eve of the feast, the feast itself, and the day following.
And let all the people of the whole kingdom know, that I will maintain and defend this church, even as my crown; and if any shall presume in any thing to contradict this our royal privilege, or shall offend the prior, the canons, the clergy, or laity of that place, he, and all and every thing that belongs to him, shall come into the king's power.
And all these things I have granted to the said church for ever, for the love of God and the salvation of myself and my heirs, and for the souls of my predecessors. Therefore I adjure all my heirs and successors, in the name of the Holy Trinity, that they maintain and defend this sacred place by royal authority, and that they grant and confirm the liberties by me granted to it.
And the witnesses of this my grant are Henry, Bishop of Winchester; Roger, Bishop of Salisbury; Bernard, Bishop of St. David's; Geoffry, Chancellor; Stephen, Earl of Morton; William of Icalbent Brito; Albenic Aubrey of Vere; Richard of Basset: Milo de Gloucester: Pain Fitz John; Robert de Courcy; Hugh Bigot, and many other barons of my kingdom.
And this charter I have made and ordered to be confirmed at , in the year of our Lord , and in the year of my reign.
Though the hospital and priory of Saint Bartholomew were indebted to Rahere for their foundation, and the chartered privileges granted by Henry I., yet it by no means appears certain this was the religious building erected on the site; for it is highly probable there was a church or some monastic building here, long prior to the Norman Conquest, and that too of Saxon origin. For in the legend notice is made, that Rahere was informed by his friends that he must get the king's license, because the ground, whereon he was appointed to build the church, was the king's. He afterward did obtain both the king's title to the ground and his license to build thereupon. Other reasons for supposing that the church here, or the chancel-part of it, might be built by the Saxons, are these: the Saxons generally made their churches with descents into them; and it is observable that all the entrances into this church are by descents of several steps; whereas the Normans built their churches with ascents. The Saxons made their lights and roofs small and mean; the Normans, on the contrary, made theirs high and large. The few churches that the Saxons had of stone were low, with thick walls, and consequently dark and damp; those of the Normans were far more stately, lightsome, and pleasant. And the late Mr. Carter, who drew, engraved, and published specimens of ancient architecture, was decidedly of opinion, from drawings he had taken in this church, of capitals, ornaments, tiers of columns, and arches, that the workmanship was Saxon, and long prior to the arrival of the Normans.
This priory possessed every conveniency possible for the solace and comfort of its inmates, as will evidently appear by a reference to the general ground-plan of the church, cloisters, &c., which, however, could have formed only a part of the vast space of ground it originally occupied, and was appropriated to its use. Independent of its conventual church, refectory, hall, cloisters, and numerous offices, it had extensive gardens to the north and east of the priory, and among them the luxury of a mulberry-garden: indeed, the religious orders of almost every description, from the knight templar to the bare footed friar, at every time and in every age, have been celebrated for taking special care of self. Holingshed has recorded the excellency of the strawberries cultivated in the garden of Ely House, , by Bishop Morton. He informs us
Shakspeare has thus introduced the circumstance in his historical play of
where Gloucester, addressing himself to Morton, says,
This priory falling to decay, was new built in (as Stowe says), and the priory church, with the parish church adjoining, and the offices and lodgings belonging to the priory, were afterward repaired by William Bolton, who was the last prior of this house that did any thing toward its improvement. He was a great builder here, and likewise new built the manor house of Canonbury, now called Cambury, at , which belonged to the canons of this house, and is situate on a rising ground, somewhat north from the parish church there. And his device, which is a bolt through a ton, remains to the present time in several places of the garden wall there, and also in the priory church, and in several old houses within St. .
On the south side of this church, the east part of this beautiful cloister, consisting of arches, is still remaining; but at this day reduced to the mean office of a stable: here are many curious devices and historical subjects carved in the stone-work of these arches, which would be worth preserving by having drawings taken of them.
On the dissolution of the monasteries and other religious houses, the minions, favourites, and courtiers of the rapacious Henry, came in for a liberal share of the Holy Plunder! The priory of St. Bartholomew fell to the lot of the attorney general, Richard Riche, who so infamously, by treachery, betrayed the confidence of Bishop Fisher, which he had obtained under the mask of consulting with him for his benefit, but which basely betraying, brought this learned and devout prelate to the block.
The parochial church was an old church, and stood next adjoining to the priory church, which priory church having tunable bells in the tower, they were sold to the parish of St. Sepulchre, and then the church being pulled down to the choir, the choir was annexed for the enlarging of the said old parish church thereunto adjoining, and so was used till the reign of Queen Mary, who gave the remnant of the priory church to the Friars Preachers, or Black Friars, which was used by them as their conventual church till the year of Queen Elizàbeth; when those friars were turned out, and all the said church, with the old parish church, was, wholly as it stood in the last year of Edward VI, given by Parliament to remain for ever a parish church to the inhabitants within the Close called Great Bartholomew's: since which time the parish church was pulled down, except the steeple of rotten timber, ready to fall of itself; this steeple was entirely taken down in , and a new built of brick and stone, very fairly finished, which now serves as an entrance to the choir of the ancient priory, the present parish church.
In there was no return made of the profits of this church; but, in , the rector and church-wardens presented, that they had no parsonage-house, nor ever had.
Bartholomew Fair was originally held in the Close only, but during a long period principally in . For many years past it has commenced on the at noon, when the Lord Mayor attends on the east side of Smithfield, opposite the entrance into , and the following proclamation is made:
O yes! O yes! O yes!—All manner of persons may take notice, that in the Close of St. Bartholomew the Great, and , London, and the lands and places adjoining, is now to be held a fair for this day and the days following, to which all persons may freely resort to buy and sell, according to the liberties and privileges of the said fair, and may depart without disturbance, paying their duties. And all persons are strictly charged and commanded, in his Majesty's name, to keep the peace, and do nothing in disturbance of the said fair, as they will answer the contrary at their perils; and that there be no manner of arrest or arrests, but by such officers as are appointed. And if any persons be aggrieved, let them repair to the Court of Pie-powder, where they may have speedy relief, according to justice and equity. God save the king! and the lord of the manor!
The boundaries of the parish of St. Bartholomew the Great are those of the Priory, within whose precincts it was and is still situate, and are as follows:
The north wall ran from Smithfield, along the south side of , to its junction with the east wall, about yards west from . It is mentioned by Stowe, and delineated in Aggas' plan, who represents a small gate or postern in it, about the half-way; it is the present entrance to , , and apposite .
The west wall commenced at the south-west corner of , and continued along Smithfield and the middle of Duc Lane to the South Gate, or Great Gate-house, where is now the entrance to . This side of the monastery Close appears to have been early occupied by houses, as well as the side toward ; as, in the grant from Henry VIII. to Sir Richard Riche, messuages or tenements are enumerated; whereof were situate in the , at and over the South Gate, in the place called Paradise, in Petty Wales, and in other places: all lying within the precincts of the Great Close and belonging to the said priory. Mention is likewise made in the said grant of messuages or tenements with stables, situate in , in the row between on the north and the west gate of St. Bartholomew on the south, and abutting upon the void ground of the priory of St. Bartholomew, within the said close, towards the east. Beyond this west gate, southward, were other houses enclosing the Great Close of the monastery, thus described in Sir Richard Riche's grant to the rector, John Deane:
The before-mentioned houses still belong to the rector, and stand in , formerly called Duc Lane, their east ends fronting the monastery Close: they were all, probably, rebuilt soon after the grant, as, at the end of the last century, the date was to be seen on some; but now they are all quite modern. The house above noticed, as situate near the South Gate, probably stood on the site of that which is now the corner house of the south-west boundary, the wall turning up the adjoining court, called Great Montagu Court.
The south wall, commencing from the west boundary at the South Gate, ran east in a direct line about half way to , where it formed an angle and passed to the south about yards, then resumed its east direction and joined the south end of the east boundary. There does not appear ever to have been any entrance through this wall into the precincts of the Close. The ground enclosed between the turnings of this wall and the east boundary is now covered with modern houses, except some old premises on the west side, and named Albion Buildings.
The east wall ran parallel with , at the distance of about yards, and was fronted for the most part by houses in that street, some of them large and magnificent, particularly London House, between which and the wall was a ditch. On the demolition of this wall, various encroachments took place, which has caused several disputes about the parish boundaries, as St Bartholomew's parish is privileged, and considered as an encroachment on the city liberties. The city has at different times litigated the question, particularly in .
The view of part of the Choir with the remains of the South Transept, the ruins of which form the boundary of the present Green Churchyard, is, as the print represents, without a roof; and though, by the accumulation of ruins and earth to form the burying-ground, it is raised to an ascent from the church pavement, of steps; in its original state, when connected with the church as part of the building, was of course level with the same. Of the ornamental pillars that supported the Gothic arches of the transept, only remains, and that is daily expected to fall, through decay and exposure to the weather. These pillars formed a screen to the passage over the aisles, from arch to another, throughout the edifice.
The interior view, on the north side, shows part of the Gothic carved-work pulpit; and the very beautiful and high-finished stone-worked screen of Rahere's monument. The east end of the chancel is wholly occupied by the altar-piece, a very spacious piece of perspective architecture, painted of stone colour, representing columns and pilasters, with their entablement of the Doric order. The inter-columns contain the Commandments, and lower are the Lord's Prayer and Creed, all done in gold letters on black; and over the Commandments, under an arching pediment, is a glory, with the word Jehovah in Hebrew characters.
On the south side are delineated the sumptuous monument of Sir Walter Mildmay, Chancellor of , and his lady, together with that of James Rivers, Esq. &c. The ancient wooden roof, embrowned by age, forms a striking relief to the more ornamented display of the interior, and helps to furnish a pleasing and picturesque effect to the whole.
On the south wall of the chancel, where a projection is shown in the print, was the front of the closet or pew for the prior, which extended backward over the south aisle; and, when repaired and beautified by William Bolton, the circumstance was commemorated by the rebus on his name, a bolt and ton, being placed in raised characters on the front, which remains perfect to the present time. In the same way is preserved the repair and ornamenting of by Islip, of the early abbots, whose rebus (an eye and the slip of a tree, on painted glass) is still to be seen in the windows of that edifice.
The buildings over both the aisles of this church have long been appropriated and used for charity schools. The Protestants Dissenters Charity School is over the south aisle; it is wainscotted round with small oaken panels, of the period of Elizabeth, or James the : there are attached to it spacious apartments, which afford a convenient dwelling for the master. The Parochial Charity School is over the north aisle, and similar to that on the opposite side in every respect.
The adjoining Chapel of St. Bartholomew is of equal antiquity with the priory. In a corner of this chapel, some years ago, there was to be seen a very antique sculpture, repesenting the figure of a priest with a child in his arms. Some mutilated fragments of ornamental sculpture are
|still remaining, but so dilapidated, that no trace is left of what they originally consisted. Underneath appear severa, vestiges of an antique chapel, though now in use only as a common cellar. The chapel is at present neatly pewed, and has a very commodious gallery; also vestry-rooms at the back of the north wall, from of which a small window looks into Churchyard, fronting the door of the south entrance to the church.|
This chapel, for upward of a century, served as a meeting-house for Presbyterian Dissenters; but at what time it was converted into a meeting house by the Nonconformists is uncertain, though it must have been pretty early. It is not improbable but that during the interregnum it was occupied by of the numerous sects that abounded at that period. During the persecuting reign of Charles the , it was certainly in their hands; and, on account of the obscurity of its situation, was admirably adapted for purposes of concealment. In several parts of the building there is every appearance of private doors, supposed to have been made to facilitate the escape of these sectaries when in danger of being apprehended.
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|The Priory and Church of St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield|
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Extracts from the Vestry Books of the Church of St. Peter upon Cornhill
Interments in the Old Church of St. Peter upon Cornhill
Monuments and Inscriptions in the Present Church of St. Peter upon Cornhill: Finished, A.D. 1681
Gifts and Charities of the Parish of St. Peter upon Cornhill
Rectors of the Church of St. Peter upon Cornhill
Library and School of St. Peter's upon Cornhill
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