Ornament from Daniell's chapter page

The church of St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield, which consists of the choir and transepts of the church of the Priory of St. Bartholomew, is the oldest parochial church now standing in London. It is likewise one of the most interesting ecclesiastical buildings in the metropolis, or indeed in all England; it is interesting on account of the antiquity of its foundation; on account of the legend connected therewith; and on account of the great quantity of original work yet remaining.

The founder of the Priory of St. Bartholomew was Rahere, a courtier of King Henry I., who by reason of his wit and liveliness had acquired the special favour of his sovereign. About the year 1120 Rahere went on a pilgrimage to Rome, and while he was there he was striken with a fever; in the course of this illness, it is said, he saw a vision of St. Bartholomew, which so much affected him that he resolved to turn his back upon his former light life, and devote himself for the future to religious and charitable avocations. On his return to England he applied for assistance to the Bishop of London, through whose influence he was enabled to found in 1123 the Hospital and Priory of St. Bartholomew, of which he himself became the first prior.

In 1133 Rahere obtained from Henry I., who took a deep interest in his pious designs, a charter of privileges, which was witnessed by several of the most distinguished men of that period, both lay and ecclesiastical. Ten years later Rahere died, but Augustinian Canons, commonly called "Black" Canons, from their black cloaks and hoods -- to which order the founder had belonged -- continued to inhabit the priory until the dissolution of monasteries by Henry VIII. In 1546 the king sold the priory to Sir Richard Rich, his attorney-general, with the exception of the choir and transepts of the church, which he granted to the parishioners.

St. Bartholomew's is unfortunately hemmed in by a network of small streets and houses, and the entrance from West Smithfield may easily be missed. It is, however, well worthy of notice, being a pointed Early English arch of considerable elegance, embellished with dog-toothed ornamentation. In monastic times the nave, built in the Early English style, extended to the gateway, which separated the sacred buildings from the outer world; now, after passing through the arch, we go along a narrow passage, across a foot thoroughfare, into the churchyard, whence we gain admission into the church itself by the west door, which is situated at the base of the tower. The exterior was once conspicuous by its fine central tower flanked by two turrets; but these were demolished in 1628, when the present brick tower was built. This tower was somewhat altered early in the present century, but there is nothing very striking about it. It contains, however, five of the oldest bells in London, dating from before 1510, and dedicated respectively to St. Bartholomew, St. Katherine, St. Anne, St. John Baptist, and St. Peter.

The internal length of the church is rather over 130 feet, and its breadth is 57 feet. The organ stands at the west end, and eastward from the organ-screen rise the central tower arches, which are in their turn succeeded by five bays, the whole terminating in an apse; which all around runs an ambulatory, which passes behind the altar. On entering, the eye is instantly rivetted on the grand old Norman work, as it stands out in its solid simplicity; particularly beautiful is the prospect of the south aisle, as one gazes through the colonnade of majestic arches. Although subsequent styles of architecture are also represented, the main part of St. Bartholomew's is Norman, and its dignified and venerable aspect equally attracts the admiration of the artist and furnishes food for the reflections of the antiquary and the historian.

The Norman and transitional Norman work was executed by Rahere and his immediate successor, Thomas of St. Osyth, prior from 1145 to 1174. Rahere had presided over the building of the eastern bays of the choir, and the tower was most probably completed before the death of Thomas. During the next half century were added the Early English columns at the south-west, and, in all likelihood, the nave, which was destroyed after the dissolution of monasteries, and the entrance gateway from Smithfield already described. In the Perpendicular style are the clerestory of the choir, above, and in marked contrast with, the Norman triforium, the three side chapels of the north ambulatory, the corbels of the west tower arch, and the Lady Chapel, which was appended at the east of the church. But the most striking innovation introduced during the prevalence of this mode of architecture was the pullling down, early in the fifteenth century, of the upper part of the Norman apse, out of the materials of which a wall was constructed, thus rendering the eastern termination of the church square instead of, as heretofore, round. The chief object of this alteration seems to have been to insert two large east windows filled with stained glass, fragments of the tracery of which have been brought to light in the progress of the restoration of the church, and may be seen carefully preserved in the north triforium. Prior Bolton, who held sway from 1506 to 1532, built in the south triforium a projecting bay window, probably for the purpose of watching the founder's tomb, which is situated on the opposite side. On the middle panel below the window is carved his well-known rebus, a bolt passing through a tun, which also occurs on another piece of his work, the choir vestry door at the south-east.

During the first half of the present century St. Bartholomew's had fallen into a very dilapidated state, and in 1864 the work of restoration was commenced. A portion of the east wall was taken away, and a new apse was erected in exact imitation of the original one, thus restoring to the eastern end of the church its pristine appearance. The architect who designed this important improvement is Mr. Aston Webb, to whom also is due the flat oak ceiling of the tower, erected in 1886, and the restoration of the south transept, to which he has added a central door, first opened for use by the Bishop of London, March 14th, 1891. In fact, all Mr. Webb's work in connection with St. Bartholomew's has been most happily designed and equally happily executed.

The restoration has been carried on at intervals, as far as funds have permitted, up to the present time, and is not yet entirely completed, a large sum being still needed. The encroachments of surrounding buildings have proved a source of much trouble and expense. A portion of a fringe factory projected into the church at the east, and was not finally removed till 1886, when it was purchased at a cost of over £6,000 by the Rev. F. P. Phillips, the patron of the living, who also defrayed the charges of the erection of the new apse, in memory of his uncle, the Rev. John Abbis, for sixty-four years rector of the parish. The north transept was actually occupied by a blacksmith's forge, but this also has been removed, and the north porch, opening out into Cloth Fair, has been completed and adorned with a figure of the patron saint. The wall of the west front, which was built out of the ruins of the nave, when the choir was first used for parochial purposes, has been newly faced with flint and stone. The south side of the stone screen below the great arch at the entrance of the north transept has had to be refaced, although the face on the north side remains in good preservation. A new case for the organ has been supplied by Mr. H. T. Withers in memory of his brother, the late F. J. Withers, and a new pulpit has been set up out of a legacy from Mrs. Charlotte Hart, who was for forty-one years sextoness, and who bequeathed at her death £600 to the Restoration Fund. The Rev. F. P. Phillips, in addition to his other acts of munificence, has also presented the handsome oak stalls, and the mosaic pavement on which stands the wooden altar, which is itself likewise a gift to the church.

On June 4th, 1893, the new works were inaugurated and dedicated by a special service conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who delivered on the occasion a most interesting sermon upon Rahere's twin foundations, the church and hospital of St. Bartholomew's. This service was attended by the Prince and Princess of Wales and many other distinguished personages, and it was hoped that the presence of the royal family, and the publicity thus obtained for the work, would be instrumental in procuring a large increase in subscriptions for the restoration. This very natural expectation has unfortunately not as yet been realized. On the contrary, subscriptions have lately shown a decided falling off, as people seem to have taken it into their heads that the royal visit marked the culmination of the whole matter, and that nothing else is left to be done -- a most erroneous notion, since about £3,000 is still requisite in order that the Lady Chapel and the crypt may be put in a thorough state of repair.

The Lady Chapel, which was built early in the fifteenth century, is about 60 feet long by 26 feet wide. Access is gained to it from the main building through a door in the temporary brick east wall of the church, and down a flight of wooden steps. It is in a somewhat ruinous condition, but a portion of the windows in the north wall remain, and on the outside the original buttresses of the south wall are still in existence. Until lately the Lady Chapel was used as a sort of museum for fragments of old work discovered during the repairs, which form a large and interesting collection; but these have now been removed to the north triforium, and it is intended that, as soon as the restoration is completed, the Lady Chapel shall be utilized for parochial purposes.

The crypt is situated beneath the eastern part of the Lady Chapel. It was vaulted by arches of a single span of 22 feet, and lighted by deeply splayed unglazed windows. A considerable portion of it has been excavated, and it will probably be opened some time in the spring of 1895. It has been proposed to devote it to the purposes of a mortuary chapel, now greatly needed in the district -- an object which the old crypt would admirably serve.

There are also some remnants of the cloister still existing, but in a stable, and the entrance door beyond the south transept has been blocked up by the pressure of the adjacent tenements.

St. Bartholomew's contains a number of interesting monuments. The one which pre-eminently attracts attention is naturally that of the founder, which is placed on the north side of the church within the communion rails, in the last bay before that which marked the commencement of the original apse. The tomb is surmounted by the recumbent effigy of the great prior, and overshadowed by a rich vaulted canopy, the work of an artist of the fifteenth century. The effigy itself is, however, considered by the most competent judges to belong to the original monument, and it seems most probable that it was carved under the direction of Rahere's immediate successor, Thomas of St. Osyth. Rahere is represented in the robes of his order, with his head shaved after the monkish fashion; an angel is placed at his feet, and at each side of him kneels a monk. Feeling no doubt that his church and hospital were his truest and noblest monument, the brethren inscribed no pompous eulogy on the gravestone of their departed chief. His epitaph runs simply thus:
"Hic jacet Raherus primus canonicus et primus prior hujus ecclesiae."
Some twenty years back the tomb was opened, and the skeleton of Rahere was found within it, together with a portion of a sandal, which may be seen among other curiosities enclosed in a glass case in the north transept.

Of the more modern monuments that which excites the most interest is the tomb in the south aisle of Sir Walter Mildmay (died 1589) and Mary his wife (died 1576). Sir Walter, who resided in the precincts, was one of Queen Elizabeth's ablest statesmen. He filled, with credit to himself and advantage to the country the offices of Chancellor and Under-Treasurer of the Exchequer, but he is now better remembered as the founder of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Sir Walter's tomb is constructed in three stories crowned by an urn; it is bedecked with marble panelling and gilded mouldings, and bears six shields emblazoned with coats of arms. There are no figures on the tomb, and the Latin inscription after the text, "Death is gain to us," sets simply forth the names of the knight and his lady, the respective dates of their decease, the number of their family, the offices of state which he held, and the fact that he founded Emmanuel College, Cambridge. This careful avoidance of parade and panegyric may be accounted for from the Puritan character of Sir Walter's religious views. The original position of the monument was in the arch opposite the tomb of Rahere; but it was removed in 1865, and placed in its present position further west. In 1870 it was repaired and put generally in order by Mr. H. B. Mildmay, one of Sir Walter's descendants. The Master and Fellows of Emmanuel College subscribed literally to the restoration fund of St. Bartholomew's, as a tribute of respect to the memory of their illustrious founder.

Illustration of South Aisle, Daniells pg. 45
The south ambulatory, drawn by Leonard Martin after a watercolour painting by W. Harding Smith, R.B.A. The Mildmay monument dominates the left half of the illustration, page 44 of Daniell's chapter on St. Bartholomew's.
The remaining monuments commemorate persons of less importance. On the north wall, above the pulpit, and beneath the corbel table of the tower arch, is a figure of Sir Robert Chamberlayne, clothed in his armour, and in an attitude of prayer. Above his head is a canopy supported by four angels, and surmounted by his arms and crest. We learn from a long Latin inscription that this knight was a great traveller, who had visited the Holy Land, and that he perished between Tripoli and Cyprus, in the year 1615, at the age of thirty-five. His memorial, which was composed of white alabaster, is finely executed, but it has been painted black; and a similar fate has befallen the outstretched hands, immediately opposite, of Percival Smalpace and his wife, made out of brown marble, and erected in 1588.

On the south wall, to the west of Prior Bolton's door, but east of the tomb of Sir Walter Mildmay, is a monument to James Rivers, who died in 1641. He was great-grandson to Sir John Rivers, Lord Mayor of London in 1573. The monument consists of a half-length figure, holding a book in one hand and an hourglass in the other, and covered with a canopy supported by pillars, and ornamented with the arms of the deceased. It is probably the work of Hubert Le Sœur, the sculptor of the statue of Charles I. at Charing Cross. Le Sœur was a French artist, who was settled in England as early as 1630. He lived close by in Bartholomew Close, and is believed to have been buried in the church.

Next to the tomb of Rivers is a half-length figure of Edward Cooke, also sheltered by a canopy, and also holding a volume. This gentleman, we are informed by a Latin inscription, was a learned philosopher and a physician of repute, who died in 1652 at the age of thirty-two. His epitaph concludes with four English lines:
"Unsluice your briny floods, what! can ye keepe
Your eyes from teares and see the marble weepe
Burst out for shame or if yee find noe vent
For tears, yet stay, and see the stones relent.
Cooke's monument is composed of a soft kind of marble, known as "weeping marble," from its tendency to break out with drops of moisture. It requires, however, a damp atmosphere to enable it to perform this function. In the old days before the restoration of the church, when the wet dripped down through the roof so copiously, that one Sunday morning the rector was constrained to put up his umbrella while delivering his sermon, the marble wept abundantly; but now that the edifice has been rendered watertight, and the pipes of a heating apparatus have been place just underneath them, "the stones relent" no more.

West of Sir Walter Mildmay's tomb is a tablet bearing a quaint, but touching, and not unpoetical inscription:
Captn John Millet Mariner 1660.

Many a storm and tempest past
Here hee hath quiet anchor cast
Desirous hither to resort
Because this Parish was the Port
Whence his wide soul set forth and where
His father's bones intrusted are.

The Turkey and the Indian trade;
Advantage by his dangers made;
Till a convenient fortune found,
His honesty and labours crown'd.

A just faire dealer he was knowne,
And his estate was all his owne
Of which hee had a heart to spare
To freindshipp and the poore a share.

And when to time his period fell
Left his kind wife and children well
Who least his vertues dye unknowne
Committ his memory to this stone.

Obiit anno aetatis 59 Anno domini 1660 Decembris 12.
Beyond the side chapels of the north aisle is the sacristy, in which the eastern portion of which may be observed a marble tablet, adorned with pillars, and resting on a base carved in the form of six books, to the memory of Thomas Roycroft, honourably known as the printer of the Polyglot Bible, which gives versions of the Scriptures in the Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Chaldean, Arabic, Samaritan, Syriac, Persian, and Ethiopic languages. Roycroft had a printing-press in Bartholomew Close, and was engaged with this great work from 1653 till after the Restoration of Charles II. In 1675 he was elected Master of the Stationers' Company; he died in 1677. The memorial to him was erected by his only son, Samuel Roycroft, who, at his death in 1712, left some funds for the relief of the poor of the parish, which are still annually distributed.

In the south transept is the effigy, removed from the wall of the south aisle, of Mrs. Elizabeth Freshwater, who died in 1617, and is described as the "late wife of Thomas Freshwater of Henbridge, in the County of Essex, Esquire," and the "eldest daughter of John Orme of this Parish, Gentleman, and Mary his wife." She is represented kneeling at a small altar, with her hair arranged after the fashion then in vogue, and her neck encircled with the large ruff characteristic of the period.

In the north aisle a marble tablet records the death of John Whiting, 1681, and Margaret, his wire, 1680. The conclusion of the epitaph is quaint:
"She first deceased, Hee for a little Tryd
To live without her, likd it not and dyd."
Another and more ornate tablet, not far from the monument of Sir Robert Chamberlayne, commemorates John Whiting, son of this John and Margaret Whiting, who was an active and highly-esteemed official of the Ordnance Department from the time of Charles II. to that of Queen Anne. At his death, in 1704, he left a sum of money to the parish for educational purposes, which is still applied in accordance with his wishes. The schools which were established under his bequest are situated on the south side of the Lady Chapel, and the foundation stone of the present building was laid by the Duchess of Albany on July 5th, 1888.

East of Prior Bolton's door is a tablet to several members of the Master family, amongst whom is Ann, the wife of Richard Master, "Daughter of Sir James Oxenden of Dean in the Parish of Wingham in the County of Kent, by whom the said Richard Master had twelve Sons and eight Daughters. She died Jan. 30th 1705 Aged 99 years and six months and lies interred in this place."

Of her grandson, Streynsham Master, who died in 1724, it is recorded:

"The said Streynsham Master Commanded several ships in the Royal Navy and did in the year 1718 particularly distinguish himself in the Engagement against the Spaniards on the Coast of Sicily; by forcing the Spanish Admiral in Chief to surrender to him."

In the north aisle, west of the tablet to John and Margaret Whiting, a very elegant brass has been inserted in the floor, with an inscription stating that it was placed there on St. Bartholomew's Day, 1893, by the old pupils of Witton Grammar School, Northwich, as a memorial to Sir John Deane, the first rector of St. Bartholomew's after the dissolution of monasteries, who founded that school in 1557.

To the western wall of the same aisle is affixed a plain marble tablet inscribed:

"In memory of Mrs. Mary Wheeler
Died October 31st 1844
and of
Mr. Daniel Wheeler
Died 17th July 1834
Aged 84 years
65 years of this parish
this stone is inscribed by
their granddaughter
Charlotte Hart, 1866."

(Photo by tbird, October 2004)

Monument to John and Mary Wheeler
 

Immediately below is a brass plate:

"In memory of Charlotte Hart
41 years Sextoness of this Church
Born 1815 Died April 3, 1891. She left
a large sum towards the Restoration
Fund of this Church for the erection
of a pulpit and other benefactions."

(Photo by tbird, October 2004)
Charlotte Hart Memorial

The font which stands in the south transept is stated by tradition to be the identical font in which were baptized William Hogarth, November 28th, 1697, and his sisters -- Mary, November, 1699, and Anne, 1701. The great painter continued in after life to take an interest in the neighbourhood where his father had resided, and where he had himself been born. On the rebuilding of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, he gratuitously embellished the grand staircase with six paintings, the subjects of which include Rahere's dream, and Rahere laying the foundation stone, while a sick man is being borne on a bier attended by monks. As an acknowledgement of this act of generosity, Hogarth was created a life-governor of the hospital.

The churchyard contains no tombs of particular interest, but every Good Friday it is the scene of a curious ceremony. After a sermon by the rector twenty-one sixpences are dropped, which are thereupon picked up by an equal number of previously selected women. In the choice of recipients for this bounty the preference is accorded to widows. The origin of the custom and the date at which it first commenced are not certainly known. It is said that the twenty-one sixpences were originally derived from a fund left by a lady buried in the nave to pay for masses for her soul, which after the establishment of Protestantism was diverted to this charitable use. This story is not in itself improbable, but the whole matter appears to be involved in obscurity. It is, at all events, certain that the fund, whatever it may have been, has long since disappeared; and the twenty-one sixpences were provided by the churchwardens until a few years ago, when a sum, from the interest of which they are now obtained, was invested by the Rev. J. W. Butterworth.*

*It is gratifying to learn that during the past twelve months subscriptions to the restoration fund have flowed steadily in, and only £1,300 is now needed. Much progress has been made with the work in the crypt; but it is feared that it is scarcely high enough to enable it to be used, as had been suggested, for a mortuary chapel.


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