Londina Illustrata. Graphic and Historical Memorials of Monasteries, Churches, Chapels, Schools, Charitable Foundations, Palaces, Halls, Courts, Processions, Places of Early Amusement, and Modern Present Theatres, in the Cities and Suburbs of London and Westminster, Volume 1
St. Helen, to whom this Priory was dedicated by , Governor of Britain under the Romans, was mother of Constantine the Great, the Christian Emperor of Rome. She was the daughter of , Prince of the Britons, and born at Colchester, in Essex, according to the British Chronicles. But some Greek writers (among whom is Nicephorus) relate, that she was born at Drepanum in Bithynia in Asia, being the daughter of an host in that city, who brought her to , then happening to be there in his passage as Ambassador into Persia, who being enamoured with her rare beauty and comeliness, became so intimate with her as to have a child by her, which child she named Constantine. But Cardinal disputes this story, and avers that she was by birth a Briton, and no concubine to , but his lawful wife.
This is that Helena, who in ancient writings is named and She went to Jerusalem, and there found out Christ's Cross; and ordained Bishop of Jerusalem. She afterwards returned to Rome, where she died, and was interred about the year of our Lord , aged years. From Rome she was afterwards translated by her son to Constantinople, and from thence, as writes, into Venice, where, says he, her body lies buried in a monastery
|dedicated to her name; but others say her body was translated to Rheims, where her translation is celebrated yearly, ; and at Rome her festival is kept .|
Before she came from Jerusalem she repaired that city, adorning the same with many goodly churches and monuments. In many other places she erected divers churches which were afterwards dedicated to her name. In her native country of Great Britain (for so the most authentic writers affirm) she left some memorials of herself, for she built (as it is said) the walls of London and Colchester, and erected also a goodly church at Bedford, which, being turned into a monastery, was destroyed by the Danes about the year . Whosoever desires to read more of St. Helen, may be satisfied out of Eusebius in , and divers other authors.
The original foundation of the Priory of St. Helen was when Alardus de Burnham was Dean of , about the year , in the latter part of the reign of King John, for Dean Burnham died on the . The permission to place Nuns there, was granted by himself and the Chapter of , to William Basing (in the instrument termed
), who was patron of the parish church of St. Helen, but which patronage he afterwards vested in the newly founded Convent. This permission, or grant, with a translation of it, follows; as also certain constitutions made for the Nuns, by Reginald Kentwood, Dean of , and the Chapter, in the year . These Nuns, it should be observed, were of the Benedictine Order, and wore a black habit, with a cloak, cowl, and veil.
Know all present and to come, that I, , Dean of the church of St. Paul, London, and the Chapter of the same church, do grant to William, the son of William the Goldsmith, patron of the church of St. Helen, London, that he may constitute Nuns in the same church for the perpetual service of God therein, and may bestow on the society of the same, the right of patronage to the said church, as the same was granted to him by our predecessors; provided that the Prioress or other governing such house (after election made by the same), do make presentation thereof to the Dean and Chapter of London, and swear fidelity to the same Dean and Chapter, as well for such church, as for a pension or annuity of half a mark, payable within days of Easter; and that they do further swear, not to alienate such before-mentioned patronage, or to subject their Convent to any other control. And we do moreover grant, as far as in us lies, that the said Society or Convent, so to be erected, may appropriate and convert to their own use all obventions belonging to the said Church, excepting the aforesaid pension, they discharging all episcopal dues appertaining to the said Church: and if it shall happen that the Nuns of such Convent shall conduct themselves improperly, we grant the same to men of religion, to hold without molestation, in the same manner as is mentioned with respect to such Nuns; and the Dean and Chapter bind themselves similarly towards them: and that this our grant and concession, and all other our engagements, may be held in perpetual remembrance and firmly observed, we have caused the same to be done in the form of a hand-writing; the part whereof to be kept by us, and the other by the said William and the said Nuns, and have mutually sealed the same, &c. Witness, Alardus, Dean of London, and others.[*] Reynold Kentwode,[*] Dean and Chapeter of the Church of Poules, to the religious women, Prioresse and Covent of the Priory of Seynt Eleyns, of owre patronage and jurisdictyon immediat, and every Nunne of the sayde Priory, gretyng in God, with desyre of religyous observances and devocyon. For as moche as in owre visitacyon ordinarye in youre Priorye boothe in the hedde, and in the membris late actually exersyd, we have founden many defautes and excesses, the whiche ne dythe notory correccyon and reformacyon, we, wyllyng vertu to be cherished, and holy relygion for to be kepte, as in the rules in youre ordyerre, we ordeyne and make certeyne Ordenauns and Injunccyons, weche we sende you wrete and seeled undir owre commone seele, for to be kepte in forme as thei ben articled and wretyn unto you.
Firste, we ordeyne and enjoyne yow, that devyne servyce be don by yow duly nythe and day, and silence duly kepte in the tyme and place, aftir the observaunce of yowre religione.
Also we ordayne and enjoyne you Prioresse and Covente, and eche of you synglerly, that ye make due and hole confession to the confessor assigned be us.
Also we enjoyne yow Prioresse and Covent, that ye ordeyne convenyent place of firmarye, in the wiche youre seeke sustres may be honestly kepte and relevyd with the costes and expences of yowre house, acustomed in the relygion durynge the tyme of heere sikenesse.
Also we enjoyne you Prioresse, that ye kepe youre dortour, and ly thereinne by nythe, aftyr observaunce of yowre religion, without that the case be suche that the lawe and the observaunce of youre religione suffreth yow to do the contrarye.
Also we ordeyne and injoyne yow Prioresse and Covent, that noo seculere be lokkyed withinne the boundes of the cloystere; ne no seculere personnes come withinne aftyr the belle of complyne, except wym-ment servauntes and made childeryne lerners, also admitte noone sojournauntes wymment withoute lycence of us.
Also we ordeyne and enjoyne yow Prioresse and Covent, that ye, ne noone of yowre sustres use nor haunte any place withinne the Priory, thoroghe the wiche evel suspeccyone or sclaundere mythe aryse; weche places, for certeyne causes that move us, we wryte not here inne in oure present injunccyone, but wole notyfie to yow Prioresse; nor have no lokyng nor spectacles owte warde, thorght the wiche ye mythe falle in worldlye delectacyone.
Also we ordeyne and enjoyne yow Prioresse and Covent, that somme sadde woman and discrete of the seyde religione, honest, well named, be assigned to the shittying (shutting) of the cloyster dorys, and kepying of the keyes, that non persone have entre ne issu into the place aftyr complyne belle; nethir in noo other tyme be the wiche the place may be disclaundered in tyme comyng.
Also we ordeyne and enjoyne yow Prioresse and Covent, that noo seculere wymmen slepe be nythe with inne the dortour, with owte specialle graunte hadde in the Chapter House, among yow alle.
Also we ordeyne and enjoyne yow, that noone of yow speke ne comone with no seculere persone; ne sende ne receyve letteres myssyves or geftes of any seculere persone, with oute lycence of the Prioresse: and that there be an other of youre sustres present, assigned be the Prioresse to here and record the honeste of bothe partyes, in suche commynication: and such letters or geftes sent or recyved may turne into honeste and wurchepe, and none into vilanye, ne disclaundered of youre honeste and religione.
Also we ordeyne and enjoyne you Prioresse and Covent, that none of youre sustres be admitted to noone office but they that be of gode name and fame.
Also we ordeyne and enjoyne you, that ye ordeyne and chese on of yowre sustres, honeste, abilie, and cunnyng of discreyone, the whiche can, may, and schall have the charge of teching and informacyone of youre sustres that ben uncunnying, for to teche hem here service, and the rule of here religione.
Also for as moche that diverce fees, perpetuelle corrodies, and lyvers have be grauntyd before this tyme to diverce officers of youre house, and other persones, weche have hurt the house, and be cause of delapidacyone of the godys of youre seyde howse, we ordeyne and enjoine yow, that ye reserve noone officere to no perpetuelle fee of office, ne graunte, no annuete, corody, ne lyvery, withowt specialle assent of us.
Also we enjoyne yow, that alle daunsyng and revelyng be utterlely forborne among yow, except Christmasse and other honest tymys of recreacyone, among youre selfe usyd, in absence of seculers in alle wyse.
Also we enjoyne you Prioresse, that there may be a doore at the nonnes' quere, that noo straungers may loke on them, nor they on the straungers, wanne thei bene at divyne service. Also we ordene and injoyne yow Prioresse, that there be made a hache of cenabyle[*] heythe, crestyd withe pykys of herne, to fore the entre of yowre kechyne, that noo straunge pepille may entre with certeyne cleketts avysed be yow and be yowre st'ward to suche personys as yow and hem thynk onest and conabell.
Also we enjoyne yow Prioresse, that non nonnes have noo keyes of the posterne doore that gothe owte of the cloystere in the churcheyard but the Prioresse, for there is moche comyng in and owte unlefulle tymys.
Also we ordeyne and enjoyne, that no nonnes have, ne receyve noo schuldrin wyth hem into the howse forseyde, but yif that the profite of the comonys turne to the vayle of the same howse.
Thes Ordenauns and Injunccyons, and iche of them, as thei be rehersid above, we send unto yow Prioresse and Convent, chargyng and commaunding yow, and iche of yow alle, to kepe hem truly and holy in vertu of obedience, and upon peyne of contempte: and that ye doo them be redde and declared foure tymes of the yeere in yowre chapele before yow, and that thei may be hadde in mynde, and kepte under peyne of excommunicacyone, and other lawfulle peynes, to be yove into the persone of yow Prioresse, and into singuler persones of the Covent, wheche we purpose to use agens yow, in case that ye disobeye us; reservyng to us and owre successours poure thes forsayde ordinaunces and injunctiouns to chaunge, adde, and diminue, and with hem despence, as ofte as the case requirethe and it is needfulle. In to whiche witnesse we sette oure common seele, yovyn in owre Chapitter Howse, the xxi day of the monyth of June, the yere of owre Lord Mccccxxxix. et anno regni Regis Henrici Sexti, post conquæstum, decimo septimo.
At the dissolution of religious houses, this Priory was surrendered, , Henry VIII. and was then valued at according to Dugdale, and as Speed. After the suppression, King Henry VIII. in the of his reign, gave the site of the Priory and its Church, called the , to Richard Williams, alias Cromwell: and Edward VI. in the of his reign, by his letters patent, bearing date the , conferred the jurisdiction of this place on the Bishop of London and his successors, which was afterwards confirmed by Queen Mary in the year of her reign; though since it has been granted back, as also the advowson of the Church, to the Dean and Chapter of , who are both patrons and ordinaries of the place, and collate to this Church as a vicarage.
The Nuns' Hall, and other houses thereto appertaining, were, after the dissolution, purchased by the Leather-sellers, a society incorporated by letters patent of the of Henry VI. anno , by the name of the Wardens and Society of the Mystery or Art of Leather-sellers of the City of London, who converted the into a Common Hall, for the purpose of holding their occasional meetings and settlement of accounts; and it continued in such use, until it was demolished, with the other remnants of the old Priory, in , to make way for the foundation for the present .
This Priory and magnificent Hall occupied a considerable portion of Little St. Helen's, a good large place, having or courts within it, with good old timber houses, well inhabited by merchants and opulent traders; likewise some alms-houses built by Sir Andrew Judd, for poor alms-people; and for the endowment of which Sir Andrew gave lands to the Skinners, out of which they were to give every week to the poor alms-people, the piece, and the year in coals for ever.
The general view given of the ruins of this ancient Priory and religious structure, dedicated to St. Helen, as represented in the prospect delineated S. E. reminds us rather of some romantic fragment of antiquity to be found in distant counties, than of situated in the very centre of the populous city of London; and were it not for the modern buildings made out in the back ground, which exhibit the nature of the adjoining neighbourhood, a spectator might be led to imagine the scene no other than many miles distant from the metropolis of England; yet it is most certain that it represents nothing more than parts of the cloisters and adjoining buildings of St. Helen's Priory, previous to its entire demolition, as above noticed. The drawing was made on the spot at the time the workmen were employed, and shows the S. E. view of the still remaining Church, and a faithful representation of what appeared in the year .
The Nuns' Dining Hall, or Refectory, a view of which is represented over that of the crypts at the south end, was formed of the best joiners' and plaisterers' work in the kingdom; the screen was most elegantly worked, having columns of the order richly adorned; and the curiously fret-worked ceiling, panelled wainscot, richly worked window abutments, Gothic recesses,
|and grand stone-worked arched entrance, rendered the appearance of the whole, when perfect, a scene truly striking and sublimely grand. Enough is preserved in the view of the great south window, to ascertain its immense magnitude; and from the number of the other windows that ornamented this apartment, sufficient light must have been admitted to dispel the gloom which generally pervades most ancient buildings.|
The Crypts under the great Hall, communicating with each other (views of which, from the north and south, are given in the Plates), were probably occasionally in use by the Nuns, for devotional exercise and meditation: indeed, the Roman calendar abounds with saints sufficient to furnish the religious orders with prayers and masses, or times every day throughout the year.
The view of the Crypt, looking from the south, was taken immediately after the demolishing of the Hall and other buildings above; and in the same Plate are represented specimens of the architecture of the building, which is Norman: the parts delineated are the piscina on the west side of the double range of vaulting, the springer to the arched head of the passage, the arched passage on the west side of the double range, elevation of the base, and plan of of the columns and springers which support the arched roof of the same.
In the plan of the Nunnery are shown the entrances to Crypts by the vaulted passages, of which was feet in extent, looking to the north: it will also be observed, that the Crypt to the north was considerably larger than that at the southern end of the building. The situation where the Nuns were placed, in order to have a complete view of the altar of the conventual church, is described by slanting apertures made through the Church wall; this church was divided from that of the parish (also under the same roof) by a partition, since taken down.
The Church of St. Helen is situate in a fair court or square on the east side of , in Bishopsgate Ward, and has a retired and pleasing appearance: but that there was a more ancient church here before the founding of the said Priory, appears by an agreement or grant (preserved in Newcourt's Repertorium) to the Canons of by and Robert his son. After this the Church fell into the hands of the Dean and Chapter by the death of the grantors above named, and of a person, to whom they had reserved it during his life: they granted the right of patronage to the William, mentioned, the son of William the Goldsmith, who afterwards applied himself to Alardus the Dean, and the Chapter of , and got leave of them to found a Priory for Nuns here.
The present Church of St. Helen's is a venerable structure, and being much decayed, was begun to be repaired in the year , and was fully restored, and in every part richly beautified, at the cost and charge of the parishioners in the year —William Hurt, Thomas Aldridge, Churchwardens. The charge of this great reparation amounted to the sum of and upwards.
This Church fortunately escaped the destructive fire of London in , and is a Gothic structure of the lighter kind, consisting of a plain body with large windows. The tower was not built till the year , and is wrought with rustic at the corners, crowned with a turret and dome, with a bell in it. It appears Sir Thomas Gresham had promised to have built a steeple, in recompense for the ground occupied by the erection of his monument in the Church, but by an oversight (it is presumed) in his will, no provision was made for that purpose.
The parsonage of St. Helen's was in the Crown in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; a lease whereof she granted about the year to Captain , for his good service against the Spaniards: this being in Spain in those eventful and dangerous times, had sent very good intelligence thence; and likewise in the fight against the Spanish fleet in : whereupon , Lord Admiral, sent a letter in his behalf to the Lord Treasurer, that for the causes above mentioned it was the Queen's pleasure that he should stay the same parsonage, that no lease of it in the meanwhile should be granted out of , which should prevent the reward of that had so well deserved in adventuring his life so many ways in Her Majesty's service.
But before this, in the Elizabeth, , the Queen granted to and the rectory, parish church, messuage, tithes, &c. for years, reserving unto her Majesty and her heirs the advowson of the vicarage.
The rectory came afterwards to , Esq. and , LL.D. and of the Masters of the Court of Chancery, to be issuing from the said rectory every year, , i. e. for a salary to a sufficient preacher of God's word, to be allowed by the Bishop of London: the parish have a copy of the Queen's sale, granting to them
This bears date, at , , the of her reign.
The monuments in this Church are very numerous, and several of them are costly and magnificent. Many eminent persons are likewise buried here, the following of which are the principal:
, Chaplain, buried iu the choir, .
Dame , widow, late wife of Sir , Knight; which Lady, by will, dated , bequeathed her body to be buried in the monastery of St. Helen, within Bishopsgate, London, in the Chapel of our Lady in the north side of the chapel, and gave the Prioress and Convent of the same a basin and ewer of silver.
, Esq. Gentleman Usher of the Privy Chamber of the King, to the Prioress and Convent of this Monastery a suit of copes and .
In this Church there was a figure of the Trinity and a high altar of St. Helen, to which much devotion was paid. In the year ,
, daughter to , wife to , son and heir to Lord , died a virgin, .
Sir , Alderman, , and his wife.
, Steward of St. Helen's, .
, Esq. Serjeant of the Pantry to Henry VIII.
Sir and Sir , father and son.
Sir and Sir , father and son.
, daughter to Sir , Lord
, Maior, .
Sir , Maior, .
Sir , Mercer, .
, Serjeant Poulter.
, Son to Sir , .
, Alderman, and sometime Sheriff of London, a merchant adventurer, and most famous for his great adventures both by sea and land, obiit die Maii .
Johannes Spencer, Londinensis, , Anno Dom. . Alicia Bromfeldia Elizabeth, Gulielmo Compton M.D.C.IX.
, merchant of the staple in England, free of the Merchant Tailors, and sometime Alderman of London; and his wife: she died , and her husband, .
, Freemason, died .
, a learned preacher of the French Church.
, an Armenian Merchant, born in Persia, died .
Sir , alias , Knt. Doctor of both Laws, Judge of the Court of Admiralty, died , aged .
, Esq. He was captain, in the year , in the camp at Tilbury; died in , aged .
, died Anno .
, of the Lord Mayor's officers, who, having in the course of many years amassed a very considerable fortune by oppressive means, left the principal part of it in trust to the Drapers' Company to found and maintain an almshouse and a school, and to keep this monument in repair: he is embalmed in a chest, made with a lid, having a pair of hinges without any fastening, and a piece of square glass in the lid just over his face. It is a very plain monument, almost square, and has a door for the sexton on certain occasions to go in and clear it from dust and cobwebs. The minister has for preaching a sermon once a year in commemoration of Mr. Bancroft's charities, on which occasion the almsmen and scholars attend at church, and are entertained with a good dinner.
With many other persons of inferior note.
The exterior of the Church presents the south-west view taken from the back of Crosby Hall; the adjoining houses were introduced to show the state of its neighbourhood: the large windows, of which is over the portico entrance, are similar in shape and dimension to that formerly in the great Hall of the Priory.
The south-west view of the interior of the Church, taken at the time the pews were removed for a very extensive repair and improvement in the year , shows the situation of the monuments in that part of the edifice; viz. Captain Bond's, Gaussen's, Bond, Sen., Rev. J. Standish's, Sir Thomas Gresham's, Sir William Pickering's, together with Sir John and Lady Crosby's. The ground-plan of the Church, accompanying that of the Nunnery, exhibits the relative situation of every monument within the walls of this sacred building.
[*] Sciant præsentes et futuri, quod Ego, Alardus, Ecclesiæ S. Pauli Lond. Decanus, et ejusdem Ecclesiæ capitulum, concessimus Willielmo filio Willielmi Aurifabri, Patrono Ecclesiæ S. Helenæ, Lond. ut constituat in eadem ecclesiâ Moniales, Deo ibidem imperpetuum servituras, et collegio ibidem constituo jus patronatus ejusdem Ecclesiæ, quod à prædecessoribus nostris ei fuerat concessum, conferat; ita quidem quod quicunq. ibidem nomine Prioressæ ministrabit, post electionem ab eodem Collegio factum, Decano et Capitulo Lond. præsentetur, et jure fidelitatem Decano et Capitulo, eam de ipsâ Ecclesiâ, quam de pensione dimidiæ marcæ annuæ, infra octo dies Paschæ solvenda, et de jure patronatus non alienando, et quod nulli alio Collegio se subjiciet. Concessimus etiam, quantum in nobis est, quod collegium ibi statutum omnes obventiones supradictæ Ecclesiæ, excepta dicta pensione, in usus proprios convertat; idem quoq. collegium omnia onera episcopalia ad Ecclesiam prædictam pertinentia, sustinebit. Si autem in loco supra dicto, aliquo casu fortuito, conversatio Monialium esse desierit, concessimus ut ibidem, viri religiosi, absq. contradictione, secundùm formam de Monialibus superius expressum, constituantur; et simili modo Decano Lond. et Capitulo obligentur. Ut autem hujus concessiones nostræ, necnon et totius conventionis nror imperpetuum memoria firmiter teneatur, et firmiter observetur, ipsum totum, sub forma Cyrographi, scribi fecimus, &c. Hiis testibus, Alardus, Lond. Decano et aliis.
[*] Ex ipso autogr. in Bibl. Hutton.
[*] Query. Reasonable.