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

Wilkinson, Robert


Oratory Under the Antient Mansion, or Inn, of the Priors of Lewes in Sussex.

Oratory Under the Antient Mansion, or Inn, of the Priors of Lewes in Sussex.




This antient specimen of ecclesiastical architecture is situate opposite to , , , close adjoining Churchyard Alley, leading to Queen Elizabeth's Free ; on which site formerly stood a spacious stone building, the city residence of the Priors of Lewes in Sussex, whenever occasion led them to visit London or its vicinity, on parliamentary or ecclesiastical duty. The Priory of Lewes was founded by William de Warren, Earl of Surrey, and his wife Gundreda, in respect to Hugh Sanza, a religious of the Cluniac order of monks, and dedicated to the honour of St. Peter, and named . The Earl founded the Priory for the benefit of the souls of himself and his wife, Queen Matilda, and King William I.; who, after his coming into England, had given him this and other lands, and made him Earl of Surrey. The Earl bestowed many possessions on his foundation of the Priory; particularly in the counties of Sussex, Norfolk, York, Essex, &c.; and probably the inn or residence in Surrey, made part of the grant from his own lands. The necessity of having a mansion or palace near the parliament, appears by an exchange transacted in the year , between Gilbert Glanville, Bishop of Rochester, and Hubert Walter, Archbishop of Canterbury, to whom he resigned , reserving only out of the exchange a small piece of land, on which he built a house called , for the reception of the Bishops of Rochester, whenever they came to attend parliament.[*]  Strype, in his edition of Stowe, vol. ii. p. , edit. , noticing parish church, says,

on the south side the street was sometime


great house, builded of stone, with arched gates, which pertained to the Prior of Lewes in Sussex, and was his lodging when he came to London; it is now a common hostery for travellers, and hath to sign the Walnut-tree.

In Maitland's time it became converted into a cyder-cellar, and is described as follows:


St. Olave's church

antiently stood a spacious stone building, the city mansion of the Prior of Lewes in Sussex; the chapel of which, consisting of


isles, being still remaining at the upper end of Walnut-tree Alley, it is converted into a cyder cellar or warehouse, and by the earth's being greatly raised in this neighbourhood, it is at present under ground: and the Gothick building, a little westward of the same (at present a wine-vault belonging to the King's Head Tavern), under the school-house, a small chapel, I take to have been part of the said mansion house.

—, .

There are entrances to this Oratory (or Crypt) in White Horse Court, reading from to House, formerly the King's Head Tavern, and prior to that the sign of the Walnut-tree. In entering by the northern entrance (marked A in the plan) it is feet inches long by feet wide, which leads to a large semicircular arched vault, feet inches long by feet wide: on side is a well, feet inches by foot, from which water is at present conveyed to the houses above; towards the further end is a door-way, feet by feet inches, leading to another semicircular vaulted arch feet long by feet inches wide; from this you are led into a passage feet by feet, which leads to the principal apartment of this antient building, the whole length of which is feet inches by feet inches in width: at the further end are windows, feet inches wide each, and on side there are likewise more of the same dimensions, and a passage feet wide, which leads to another apartment, but is blocked up with stone and bricks. This antient apartment consists of groined arches, supported on curious columns (see the view) feet inches in diameter. From this you enter into another vault of various dimensions, but the length is feet inches: part of this vault is arched, as the former, and part groined, over which the stairs leading to Queen Elizabeth's School are erected. On entering the southern entrance (marked B in the plan) you descend by a gradual slope into the semicircular apartment, already described: the present flooring is of earth and brick rubbish, which have accumulated from time to time, so as to bury the pillars (that appear in the view) to within a short space of the surface, which was lately proved by digging, on a prospect of converting the Crypt into a cœmetery for the use of the parish. The height of the roof is unequal, from the partial rising of the ground, but is in general from to feet. The principal apartment terminates at the windows (which appear in the view), now completely blocked up by brickwork towards the churchyard, no vestiges of which outwardly appear. The junction of the aisles is shown in the view, which has been taken in a way to exhibit the appearance it formerly made, although the raising of the ground has


brought it to within feet of the frame-work of the windows. The present occupant is Mr. Hewitson, a painter and glazier, and the Oratory is now to let as store-cellars, or for any other purpose. The principal apartments of House are now converted into billiard-rooms.

It is certain that the Earls of Warren and Surrey had very considerable possessions in this parish, and that the living itself was under their cognizance; for in Stow's Survey of London, edit. , p. , it is thus noticed, from an old record:

Oluf in Southwarke, diocis Winchester, patron Priour of Lewes in Southsex. The decis.


Having thus far established the structure described as part of the mansion of the Priors of Lewes, we will trace out for what purpose the portion under consideration was appropriated. It has been denominated in Manning's History of Surrey a , and by others an

To inform ourselves with any degree of certainty with respect to the foundation of structures for Divine service by the Christians of the early ages, would take up more than the prescribed limits of this work will allow: yet to be scanty in furnishing a proper and necessary illustration would be equally exceptionable.

It is evident that Christianity was planted and propagated in the world in humility, and growing as it were from a state of infancy; at the primitive Christians were necessitated to assemble themselves, not in the most convenient, but the safest places, to avoid the malice of the Jews, and the persecutions of the Gentiles, and to congregate themselves, for more safety, in subterraneous caves and vaults, the remains of which are still to be traced in the Catacombs at Rome, which were places of large extent under ground, wherein the primitive Christians used to assemble, not only to pray and preach, to receive the sacraments, but to bury the bodies of their martyrs and confessors, and also oftentimes to hold their councils. Yet these were, from mere circumstances, of the utmost necessity; for the Christian converts, both Jews and Gentiles, though they rejected idolatrous and superstitious pomp, deposited their departed friends in places distant from towns in cœmeteries (); because the laws were still in force against burying in towns, and because they were under persecution, both by Jews and Pagans.

Thus, when, by reason of the meanness of their places of worship, the Christians of those times were upbraided by their adversaries,

for their poor and indecent services to such a great God,

they with cheerful ingenuousness replied,

That indeed they wanted such sumptuous temples as those which the heathens made their boast; but that they also could glory in temples more suitable and magnificent than any of those of which their adversaries might vaunt. The Universe was their Temple, framed and built by God himself, for his own honour and glory; and where he is present in all corners of it, to hear and receive the addresses of his servants.

But though this might be a leading principle among the Christians, they did not think it necessary strictly to adhere to it: and that because the universe and a Christian's soul might be said to be God's temple, it were needless to have any other. Therefore, at the dawn of liberty of conscience, they countenanced, and then gave their assistance in building and dedicating churches and oratories; but with great caution and difficulty in those hazardous times, because, as Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, informs us,

the persecuting heathens often found out and pulled down their humble oratories.

So that the places of Christian religious worship were only some convenient apartments within the dwellings of pious disciples, dedicated by the bounty of the owners to the service of the church; these chambers were called Cœnaculi, as being most quiet and safe.

But the more immediate object of our present information is an account of CRYPTS.

The word Crypt is derived from the Greek , a hollow place under ground, whence is derived the German word or , a corruption of Crypta. Hence it is that among ecclesiastical writers the word Crypta is to be met with, to signify a church under ground; and our cathedrals, in imitation, or as a memorial, have them yet under their choirs; whence the term of this kind was the church of St. Faith, formerly under the cathedral of St. Paul, London. But as Crypts were appropriated to several purposes, we shall endeavour to illustrate the various intentions of the devotees in their construction of these primæval edifices.

When the Christians became numerous, they had separate places from the Gentiles, not only for places of devotion, but also for depositories of their dead. To avoid as much as possible the insults of their enemies, they contrived vast subterraneous vaults, with various winding paths: in the sides of these vaults were niches, in which the coffins of the deceased were placed. St. Jerome has given a geographical description of them:

When I was a boy at Rome,

says he,

I, with some of my fellow-students, would visit the sepulchres of the Apostles and Martyrs, which were deep in the earth; all about was very dark, as if the prophecy of the Psalmist had been literally fulfilled, 'Let them go down quick into hell:' only a little light being admitted through a hole above, to temper the horror of the darkness.

It appears that the Emperor Constantine the Great was the who was buried near a church; and though it could not be permitted for him to be buried the church, as a thing unheard of; yet he was resolved to lie as near the church as possible, and therefore was buried in the great church which he had erected in Constantinople. And St Chrysostom, with vast prelatical pride, insults the memory of the Emperor when he says that

it was a great honour done to Constantine, that he was permitted to be buried at the door of the temple, and to be porter to the fishermen.


For that the Apostles in their deaths were more honourable than all the princes of the earth, because even at Rome, the royal city, emperors, consuls, and generals shewed their respect, and paid their veneration at the sepulchres of fishermen and tent-makers; and at Constantinople it was thought honour sufficient for an Emperor to be buried, not in the place where the apostles lay, but in the porch of the temples built to their names and honour.

The clergy ventured step further, and would lie within the walls of that church, when dead, in which they had officiated when living. The bishops, priests, and monks pretended a right to the churches superior to that of princes, chose the principal places for themselves, and excluded all others from being buried there: they kept the power of dispensing such favour in their own hands, and soon made their claim a law; for the canon law says, that

only bishops, abbots, and presbyters should be buried in the churches, and such laymen as they should approve of.

Thus was the most solemn of all rites made subservient to the dictates of pride and ambition. But another and an equally mischievous cause of burying in churches arose from superstition and error; and though our respect for the memory of Pope Gregory the Great is indeed very high, yet we cannot but feel aversion to his conduct, when, in the year , he brought into the churches, and set up in the most solemn manner, relics enshrined in gold, sometimes upon, over, but generally under the altar, which made the survivors flock to bury their dead there in hopes that both might receive benefit from their emanation.

Lucre now came in for a share of the profits of the rights of sepulture;

for which purpose the bishops carried on the imposture to the utmost degree, and promoted the superstition for the sake of their private gain. The Spanish bishops, in particular, in their processions, caused the relics of saints to be hung about their own necks, and being thus adorned, were carried in chairs by their deacons to be shown to the people; and, after the manner of mountebanks, they exposed the relics for the cure of all diseases, both of body and mind; and by such impious means made great profit, for a touch or a kiss of these pieces of corruption could not be obtained by the common people without a valuable consideration. This practice, however, was forbidden, as scandalous, by a council held in the year



But instead of the Christian religion benefiting and enlightening mankind, as was its primary intention, the minds of the selfish, aided by power, induced the most absurd and shameful practices; for the Council of Nice decreed,

that such churches as had been consecrated without relics, should have relics deposited there, with solemnity of public prayer.

They did not stop here; for that Council further decreed,

that no churches for the future should be consecrated without relics, and that bishops presuming to consecrate differently

should be deposed!

Such a profane doctrine, in process of time, introduced innumerable superstitious follies into the church, and opened the way for infinite frauds and impostures, such as the blessed saints themselves, had they been on the earth, must have held in the utmost detestation and abhorrence.

During the reign of Charlemagne, the monks, in , to acquire wealth, ran up and down with the bones and other relics of the saints; and, under the pretence of this kind of zeal, used every indirect mode to enrich themselves, insomuch that the Emperor took such umbrage at their conduct, that he forbade their iniquitous proceedings to obtain their object, which was, to get the burial of the dead within their cloisters, that they might benefit by the oblations. This gave rise in the middle ages, both in England and other parts of Europe, to mortuaries, oblations, gifts, , and , all which at were voluntary, but afterwards enforced; for, by a decree of Simon Mepham, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the year , and in the year of the reign of Edward III., it was declared,

that they who endeavour to reduce oblations to a certain small sum, are denounced excommunicate by the greater excommunication, till they make satisfaction!

And what heavy burdens the clergy in England exacted for oblations, mortuaries, &c., even to the impoverishing of their votaries, is amply detailed in most of our ecclesiastical histories.

Burial in churches in England did not take place till Cuthred, King of the West Saxons, introduced that mode in the century, previously to which inhumation was performed in the open fields.

The privilege of having churchyards for interment, was procured from the Pope, by Cuthbert, the Archbishop of Canterbury from St. Austin, in the year . And Dr. Inett acknowledges,

that the antient custom of the English church was changed; and the burial in churches introduced in the latter end of the


century, about the year



Even so late as the year , in the reign of William the Conqueror, the Council held at Winchester, under Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury,

forbade the burial in churches by the



But when corruption of principle, superstitious extravagance, and the vilest fraud, tyrannized over the minds of the weak and unwary, under the mask of purity of manners, and an innocent susceptibility to deception, the grossest iniquity prevailed, the most scandalous profanation ensued, the poor devotees were instructed to believe the most palpable inconsistencies, and the doubting such inconsistencies and absurd dogmas, maintained by arbitrary dictators, was rendered liable to the severest persecution; and religion did not resume its due influence till the fires in Smithfield, and in other places of England, so far purified the reason of the inhabitants of this country, that the results have been in the highest degree beneficial.

No places for Divine worship in London, or throughout England, during the period of this lamentable superstition were without their Cemeteries, Crypts, Sepulchral Lamps, and other dregs of profanation; so that what was originally


considered idolatrous, came, through the corruption of future times, to be considered as the only mediums to obtain eternal happiness! Farmer, in his History of Waltham Abbey, recounts no less than a hogshead of nails in England, all most solemnly affirmed to be the true nails which fastened the Redeemer to the cross!

Another use to which these Crypts were appropriated, was that of or

According to the civil and canon law, no man could build a church or oratory without the leave of the bishop, not before he consecrated the place by prayer, by setting up the cross, and making processions, and also, that before the constructor built it, the necessary maintenance should be allotted for it, and for those who performed Divine offices. No sanctuary was allowed to the place till the bishop had hallowed it, nor that it should be hallowed, within years, by the bishop.

Thus, according to Burn's Ecclesiastical Law,

private chapels were such as noblemen and other religious and worthy persons had, at their own private charge, built in or near their own houses, for them and their families to perform religious duties in it. These private chapels and their ornaments were maintained at the charge of those persons to whom they belonged, and chaplains provided for them by themselves with honourable pensions: and these antiently were all consecrated by the bishop of the diocese, and ought to be so still.

Degge, p. i. c. .

According to the decrees of Archbishop , chapels are thus noticed:

We do decree that whosoever against the prohibition of the canons shall celebrate mass in oratories, chapels, houses, or other places not consecrated, without having obtained the license of the diocesan, shall be suspended from the celebration of Divine service for the space of a month; and all licenses granted by the bishops, for celebrating mass in places not consecrated, other than to noblemen or other great men of the realm, living at a considerable distance from the church, or notoriously weak or infirm, shall be void. Nevertheless, the heads, governors, and canons of cathedral churches, and others of the clergy, may celebrate mass in their oratories of antient erection, as hath been accustomed. Moreover, the priests who shall celebrate mass in oratories or chapels built by the Kings or Queens of England, or their children, shall not incur such pain.

Lind. .

An oratory differs from a church; for in a church there is appointed a certain endowment for the minister and others; but an oratory is that which is not built for saying mass, nor endowed, but obtained for saying prayer.

Lind. .

Without having obtained the license of the diocesan for such oratory, any


might build without the consent of the bishop; but without the license of the bishop, Divine service might not be performed there, and this license he should not grant for Divine service there to be performed upon the greater festivals.

Lind. .

Abundance of such licenses, both before and since the Reformation, remain in our ecclesiastical records, not only for prayers and sermons, but, in some instances, for sacraments also. But the law is (as Lindwood hath it in his Gloss on the said canon), that such license be granted sparingly. And these restrictions were laid on private oratories, out of a just regard to places of public worship; that while the laws of the church provided for great infirmities, or great distance, such indulgence might not be abused to an unnecessary neglect of public or parochial communion.

Gibs. .

And in the said oratories, a bell might not be put up without the bishop's authority.

Lind. .

A certain portion of antient churches was called the , which was the nether part set apart for the purpose of instructing children, and thence called the parvis, , from the young boys who were there instructed; which illustrates the following passage in Matthew Paris:

In the reign of Henry III. the Pope's collector met a poor priest with a vessel of holy water and a sprinkler, and with a loaf of bread, that he had gotten for some of his holy water, for he used to go abroad and bestow his holy water, and receive from the people what they gave him, as the reputed value thereof. The Pope's collector asked him, what he might get in


year that way? The priest answered, 'About

twenty shillings

;' to which the collector presently replied, 'Then there belongs, as due out of it, as the tenths,

two shillings

to my receipt yearly,' and obliged him to pay it accordingly. Upon which,

continues the passage,

the poor priest, to enable him to pay the imposition, and to get a sort of livelihood, was constrained to take up the trade of selling little books at the Parvise.

Having thus endeavoured to ascertain the uses to which the structure we have described might be put, it only remains to add, that, agreeably to the mode of its architecture, it seems to have been built about the century, and probably by of the Earls of Warren and Surrey, as part of a benefaction to the Priory of Lewes; and its dimensions, as above, were thus taken from an exact measurement.


[*] There had been antiently a palace in Southwark (probably that in Bermondsey), wherein Henry II. resided, and held his first parliament, Christmas, 1154, which was afterwards occupied by the De la Poles, Marquisses and Dukes of Suffolk. Margaret de la Pole, it appears by her will, bequeathed her body to be laid in the monastery of St. Saviour, Bermondsey, in the chapel called the Virgin's Chapel.

View all images in this book
 Title Page
 Howell's View of London
 View of the Fire of London
 City Wall
 The Conduits of Cheapside and Cornhill
 Plan of the Fire in Bishopsgate Street, Cornhill, and Leadenhall Street: November 7th, 1765
Frost Fair on the River Thames
 Part of the Strand: St. Clement's Danes
 Ancient Structure in Ship Yard: Temple Bar
 St. Paul's Cross and Cathedral: With King James I and his Court at a Sermon
 Ancient Cathedral Church of St. Paul, London
 Paul's Cross (and Preaching There)
Elsinge Spital, Sion College, and the Church of St. Alphage, London Wall
 Elsinge's Hospital; or, as it is otherwise denominated, Elsynge Spittle
 Sion College
 The Priory and Church of St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield
 The Church of St. Bartholomew the Less: Giltspure Street, West Smithfield, in the Ward of Farringdon Without
Crosby Hall, Bishopsgate Street
The Priory and Church of St. Helen, Bishopsgate Street
 Monument of Sir Andrew Judde, Knight: In the Church of St. Helen, Bishopsgate Within
St. Michael's Church: Cornhill
The Parish Church of St. Paul, Shadwell: In the County of Middlesex
 The Parish Church of St. Peter upon Cornhill: In Cornhill Ward
Extracts from the Vestry Books of the Church of St. Peter upon Cornhill
 St. Saviour's Church
 St. Saviour's Church, Southwark
 Winchester Palace, Southwark
 Chapels at the Eastern End of the Church of St. Saviour, Southwark
 Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem
 An Account of Bermondsey, its Manor, Priory, and Abbey
 Priory of the Holy Trinity: In the Ward of Aldgate
 St. Martin-le-Grand College, and St. Vedast, Foster Lane
 Guildhall Chapel
 A short Account of Lazar Houses in and near London
 Knightsbridge Chapel
 Lambe's Chapel and Alms-Houses: Monkwell Street, Cripplegate
 The late Mr. Skelton's Meeting House, Erected Near the Site of the Globe Theatre, Maid Lane, Southwark
 Zoar Street, Gravel Lane, Meeting House and School
 Oratory, Under the Antient Mansion, or Inn, of the Priors of Lewes in Sussex
 Whitehall: Plate I
 Whitehall: Plate II
 Whitehall: Plate III
 St. James's Palace
 Fawkeshall, or Copped Hall, Surrey
 Toten-Hall, Tottenham Court Road
 King John's Palace
 Clarendon House, called also Albemarle House
 Somerset House
 Suffolk House
 York House
 Durham, Salisbury, and Worcester Houses
 Sir Paul Pindar's House
 Montagu House: Great Russel Street, Bloomsbury
 The British Museum
 Bedford House, Bloomsbury Square
 Peterborough House, afterward Grosvenor House, Millbank, Westminster
 Craven House, Drury Lane
 Ancient Mansion called Monteagle House: Montague Close, Southwark
 Oldbourne Hall, Shoe Lane: In the Parish of St. Andrew, Holborn