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Title: An Illustrated Account of St. Bartholomew's Priory Church, Smithfield

Author: Normanus

Illustrator: G. J. Evans

Release date: July 6, 2015 [eBook #49383]
Most recently updated: January 25, 2021

Language: English

Credits: Produced by deaurider, Chuck Greif and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at (This
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Priory Church of St. Bartholomew,

In certain versions of this etext, in certain browsers, clicking on an image will bring up a larger version. (etext transcriber's note)


St. Bartholomew’s Priory Church,

S M I T H F I E L D.












Illustrated by 56 Engravings from Original Sketches,







THE CHURCH OF ST. BARTHOLOMEW THE GREAT, Smithfield, is one whose architectural and historical considerations will doubtless exempt it from the destructive operation of the “Union of Benefices” Act.

The Compilers trust that the following particulars concerning this, the oldest Church now remaining in London, will prove acceptable to residents and others who are unacquainted with the many points of interest attaching to the ancient structure.

A Sketch of St. Bartholomew Fair, Bartholomew’s Hospital, and also of Canonbury Tower, all of which are intimately associated with the Priory, have likewise been added.

The Illustrations are from original sketches made on purpose for this work, which it is hoped may thereby be rendered more attractive.

The Compilers feel much indebted to the several Authors whose works have been consulted in the preparation of this Volume.

St. Bartholomew’s Priory Church, S M I T H F I E L D.
St. Bartholomew’s Priory Church,

S M I T H F I E L D.

AT the commencement of the twelfth century, Rahere or Raherus, who had been jester and minstrel to Henry the First, obtained from that monarch permission to found a Priory. The site, also given by the king, was without the city walls, not far from one of its gates, on a morass, which extended some considerable distance. Stowe tells us, that in his time, there was a great water here. The spot being intersected by many brooks, much difficulty was experienced in forming even a foundation; but after the expenditure of a considerable amount of time and labour this was accomplished, and a grand building arose of which we purpose to speak, and whose noble remains testify to its simple, solid grandeur, and cause us to regret that so little is left to us of the original structure.

Rahere, we are told, was a man “sprung and born from low kynage,” not having cunning of liberal science—but that is more eminent than all cunning—for he was rich in purity of conscience. His goodness showed itself towards “God by devotion, towards his brethren by humility, towards his enemies by benevolence.” And thus himself he exercised them, patiently suffering; whose proved purity of soul, bright manners with honest probity, expert diligence in divine service, prudent business in temporal manifestations, in him were greatly to praise and commendable. In feasts he was sober, and namely the follower of hospitality. Tribulations of wretches, and necessities of the poor people opportunely admitting; patiently supporting, competently spending. In prosperity not yre prided; in adversity patient.

Such is a simple outline of the character of the man by a contemporary biographer after his conversion; he having passed the flower of his youth amidst the licentiousness of the soldiers’ camp and the feudal castle, and joining in all the wild revelries of that time.

It is related he was wont to haunt the households of noblemen, and, when under their observation, to spread their cushions with gapes and flatterings detestable, anointing their eyes by this manner to draw to him their friendship. He also frequented the King’s Palace, and by his suavity and intelligence forced himself amongst the noiseful press of that tumultuous court, into the presence of the king, and became his minstrel.

At length he felt the emptiness of all these pleasures and excesses, and their inability to supply his soul’s longings, and became “penytent of his synnes;” “the inward seer and merciful God of all, the which out of Mary Magdalen cast out seven fiends, the which to the fisher gave the keys of heaven, mercifully converted this man from the error of his way, and added to him so many gifts of virtue.” Influenced by the spirit of his age he undertook a pilgrimage to Rome, and there, at the shrine of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, he, weeping his deeds, prayed to our Lord for remission of them.

While at Rome he was seized with a grievous sickness, which brought him to the verge of the grave. In his extremity, being full of dread on account of his unatoned sins, he vowed that if health God would him give that he might return to his country, he would found an hospital for the benefit of poor men.

His prayers and repentance were heard and accepted; for not long after the benign and merciful Lord beheld this weeping man, gave him his health, and approved his vow. After this Rahere beheld a vision, full of dread and sweetness. “It seemed to him that he was borne up on high of a certain beast, having four feet and two wings, and set him in a high place; and when he from so great a height would inflect and bow down his eye to the lower part downward, he beheld a horrible pit, whose beholding impressed him with great dread, for the deepness of the same pit was deeper than any man might attain to see; he deemed himself to slide into that cruel adowncast, and therefore he quaked, and for fear trembled, and great cries out of his mouth proceeded. To whom appeared a certain man, in majesty like a king of great beauty and imperial authority, and fastened on him his eye.” “O man,” he said, “what and how much service shouldst thou give to Him that in so great a peril hath brought help to thee?” Anon he answered to this saint, “whatsoever might be of heart and of might, diligently should I give in recompense to my Deliverer.”

And then said he, “I am Bartholomew, the Apostle of Jesus Christ, and come to succour thee in thine anguish, and to open to thee the secret mysteries of Heaven; know me truly, by the will and commandment of the Holy Trinity and the common favour of the celestial court and council, to have chosen a place in the suburbs of London at Smithfield, where in my name thou shalt found a church. The spiritual house Almighty God shall inhabit and hallow it, and glorify it. Wherefore doubt thee nought, only give thy diligence, and my part shall be to provide necessaries, direct, build, and end this work.”

Rahere came to London deeply impressed with this vision, and often spoke of the work he intended to do to the Nobles and Barons, and also to the King, since the place where he was to erect his building was contained within the King’s market.

The King lent a willing ear to his petition, and granted him permission to build the Priory on the spot desired. It was on a very marshy piece of ground, water everywhere abounding; the only land above the water dry was deputed and ordained to be the gallows of thieves, and to the torment of others that were condemned by judicial authority. The work undertaken by him required a large amount of labour and perseverance, and like all earnest men he set to work with the determination to conquer all difficulties, and at length succeeded in raising a glorious fane.

It is recorded, that feigning himself an idiot, he collected daily a little band of children, lepers, and poor people, and with these efforts gathered stones from the waste and morass around for the use of his building, thus showing the many difficulties with which he had to contend, both from man and the spot where his church was to be built. Rahere feigned himself an idiot, to hide from his enemies, who were numerous about the court, his ultimate design, and also to enlist the sympathy of the people, for in that superstitious age it was believed that idiots were under the care of a special providence.

Rahere at length cast aside his assumed idiotcy, and began his Apostolic work by instructing with cunning of Truth, and saying the word of God in divers churches, and constantly exhorting the multitude both of clerks and laity to follow and fulfil those things which were of charity and alms deed. He did not make these appeals in vain, and his purity was not unknown at Court, and after patient waiting and labour, his church was founded in March, Anno Domini 1113.

The edifice was of comely stonework tablewise, and an hospital house a little longer off from the church, which was founded for the service of the poor, the sick, and pregnant women, with the care of such children, till seven years old, as lost their mother at birth. The year of its completion differs as given by various authorities, but about 1123 is the generally received date at which the Priory was finished. The completion of the work under all the circumstances and difficulties, created a great amount of wonder and admiration, mixed with superstitious awe, its grandeur astonishing the beholders by its contrast with the desolation that previously reigned around.

Rahere was appointed first Prior. He was Prior 22 years and 6 months, and was succeeded by Thomas, one of the Canons of the church of St. Osyth, who continued prelate about 30 years; in age 100 winters when he died. We then have Gregory, Canon of St. Osyth, made Prior 1213, who a few days after became monk at Abingdon.

Licence to elect a successor was granted by the King in 1256 on the cession of Peter, 40 Henry III. Robert, the Sub-prior, was elected, and the King consented Nov. 23 of that year.

Gilbert de Woledon was appointed 46th Henry III. The King gave his consent, and restored temporalities Nov. 24.

John Baccen was elected 48th Henry III., Jan. 11, 1264.

Edward I. granted a license to elect a Prior March 11, 1295, on the death of Brother Hugh. 11th Edward II. the King was advised of the death of the Prior, and granted a license to elect another Nov. 4, 1317.

24th Edward III. license was obtained to elect a Prior on the death of John de Packendon, May 25, 1352.

29th Edward III., on the cession of Edward de Braughgrg, John de Carleton was appointed.

Thomas de Watford died June 4, 1381.

William Gidney became Prior June 10. Here were at that time 21 monks.

William Gidney died 1390, and John Renyndon, alias Eyton, was elected March 3rd.

Brother John succeeded him, 1407.

Brother Reginald was elected May 1, 1437, John in 1439, and William Bolton in 1509, and who died April 15, 1532. He perhaps was the most comfort-seeking of them all. We here introduce his Rebus—“He was Prior Bolton, with his Bolt-in Tun.”

Robert Fuller, Abbot of Waltham Holy Cross, the last Prior, was elected in 1532, and held the Priory with his Abbey, as Prior commendatory. He surrendered this house to the King October 25, 1540, 31st Henry VIII., and his Abbey of Waltham March 23rd of the same year.

During the life of Rahere the Priory flourished, and great gifts of money and other offerings were made by the people, and it became subsequently the richest of the thirty-six religious houses founded in the Middle Ages.

Its fame was greatly increased by the miracles Rahere is said to have worked; the two following are appended as specimens:—

“A woman whose tongue was so swollen she could not shut her mouth, was brought to the church and offered to Rahere the Prior, who being a man of mercy and great benignity, took compassion on her, and after having revolved the relics that he had of the Cross, dipped them in water and worked her tongue therewith, painting on it the token of the Cross, and in the same hour the swelling went its way.”

The second is much more astonishing. “A child had been blind from its birth, was brought to the solemnity of the glorious Apostle, and as he entered the church fell down on the earth, and there awhile turned himself now this way, now that way, and while tarrying there anon the inward-born blindness fled away; and then he knew his parents with open eyes, that never he saw before, and sundry things by their proper names he called.”

These wonderful cures were celebrated by magnificent festivals, the produce of which helped to swell the exchequer, and enabled Rahere to extend his charitable operations.

Rahere found though his fame increased his difficulties did not decrease; members of his own house rebelled against him, and he was accused of being a deceiver. At length his position became so trying that he appealed to the King for protection; the King listened to his appeals, and prohibited by his royal authority, “whether his minister or any other in his whole land, to be troublesome to Rahere the Prior, or the aforesaid church, concerning anything that 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.”

In his difficulties he was much helped and encouraged by the counsel of an old man named Alfun, who not long before had built the adjoining church of St. Giles, Cripplegate, also just without the city walls, the most perfect remains of which are still to be seen in the churchyard.

Having obtained these concessions from the King he purposed going to Rome to lay before the authorities there his calamities, but death intervened, after a prelacy of 22 years and 6 months. And thus ended the life of this man, “subject to the King of bliss, with all meekness; provided with all diligence that were necessary to his subjects; and so providing increased daily to himself; before God and man grace; to the place reverence; to his friends gladness; to his enemies pain; to his after-comers joy.”

At the time of Rahere’s death there were 13 Canons, “with little land and right few rents.” “When the day of his nativity into heaven was known, it was solemnized with great joy and dancing on earth;” and though the solemnities of miracles ceased, and less means flowed into the church in consequence, yet “by copious oblations of the altar, and by helping of the populous city,” it seems to have prospered very well till it was dissolved by Henry VIII., in 1542, having enjoyed its privileges 427 years. At its dissolution the six bells were taken out of the church and sold to the parish of St. Sepulchre.

During the reign of Mary an attempt was made to revive the Catholic worship here by presenting the Church to the Black Friars; but in the first year of Elizabeth’s reign they were expelled, and the reformed service performed, which has continued to this day.

The present church was originally the choir of the priory; it in all probability extended to the gate in Smithfield, which was the entrance into the southern aisle of the nave.

The exterior of the church, as we now see it, consists of a brick tower, 75 feet high, erected in 1628; by its side, where the nave has been cut away, a wall and large window have been built.

The foundations of the nave are still below the soil of the churchyard, and near the wall on the right some fragments of columns may be seen.

There is a curious custom still observed on Good Friday; the churchwardens proceed to a certain grave, on the stone of which are placed 21 sixpences; 21 poor, aged people have to stoop and take them off the stone; some are so old and decrepit as scarcely to be able to do so; the minister is also paid the like number of sixpences.


We will now enter the Church. Over the space before reaching the Choir the Tower originally stood; it was supported on four arches, which still remain. Passing on, we come to the Choir; how striking is the solid grandeur of the massive Norman columns, more than seven hundred years old, and seemingly built to stand for ever. These support the fine semi-circular arches of the edifice. An open triforium interposes, as usual, between them and the roof, thus leaving the rafters exposed to view, which is not to be seen in any other London church. The strong timber roof is similar to that in Peterborough Cathedral.


At the north-east angle of the Choir is the beautiful Tomb of the venerable Founder and first Prior of the Monastery. This monument, supposed to have been erected at the beginning of the fourteenth century, was restored by Prior Bolton. Its preservation is still ensured by a legacy bequeathed for the purpose of keeping it in constant repair.

The effigy of Rahere is doubtless a likeness; he is habited in black robes; two Canons kneel at his feet, reading from a Bible open at the 51st chapter of Isaiah, with the following words:—“The Lord shall comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places; and He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.”

Below him on the front of the monument are four splendid coats of arms, sculptured and painted; and above him a rich canopy with ogee arches. The tomb is altogether a handsome and interesting work.

On the opposite side of the Choir, directly facing Rahere’s Tomb, and on a level with the triforium, is a beautiful oriel window erected by Prior Bolton; it communicated with his house at the east end of the church. He could see therefrom whether the Canons were properly performing their duties; the centre spandril contains his rebus, the Bolt and Tun.

There are some other interesting monuments in the Choir; one to Robert Chamberlain, in dark brown or black marble, it represents a man in armour kneeling under a canopy and two angels drawing aside a curtain.

Very near this is the Monument of James Rivers, with the following inscription:—

“Within this hollow vault there rests the frame
Of the high soul which once informed the same;
Torn from the service of the state in ’s prime
By a disease malignant at the time.
Whose life and death designed no other end
Than to serve God, his country, and his friend;
Who when ambition, tyranny, and pride
Conquer’d the age, conquer’d himself and died.”

Beyond this, in the South Aisle, is a magnificent and elaborate one of coloured marbles and giltwork, to the memory of Walter Mildmay, founder of Emmanuel College, Cambridge; he held office under Henry VIII., Edward VI., was Chancellor of the Exchequer to Queen Elizabeth, and with Lord Burleigh was deputed to treat with Mary Queen of Scots, and to deliver to her a letter from Elizabeth at Fotheringay Castle, charging her with treason and conspiracy.

There is a curious one to the Smallpage family, containing two heads, the one a male, the other a female in ruffs, of the period 1558, this in dark marble.

Another to Edward Cooke, with the following lines:—

“Unsluice your briny flood; what! can you keep
Your eyes from tears, and see the marble weep?
Burst out for shame, or, if you find no vent
For tears, yet stay, and see the stones relent.”

There is also a Monument to the memory of Eliza Freshwater, in dark marble; it represents a woman kneeling in prayer at an altar in a niche.


In the South Aisle, at the west end, the Font stands, with a curious cover, and two ornamental weights on chains for raising it. Hogarth was christened at this Font.

The Aisles are about 12 feet wide, having arched or vaulted roofs; on one side are pilasters, with the arches springing from them and joining the massive Norman pillars of the Choir. The Aisles are lighted by windows of different sizes and slightly pointed. At the west end of the North Aisle may be seen a cluster of columns, of which a view is given above.

Behind the Altar is a curious stone coffin, so shaped at one end as to fit the head of its occupant; and no doubt in its cold embrace some ancient Brother of the Priory was once clasped.


The “Ambulatory” is somewhat gloomy, but very picturesque with its Rembrandt effect; we here introduce a view of the spot. It has long been called the Purgatory, from being used as a charnel or bone house.


At the east end of the South Aisle is a doorway that led to Bolton’s House, in the upper right hand corner of which we again meet with Bolton’s Rebus.

The house is now used as a fringe manufactory; the upper rooms were the dormitory and infirmary of the Monastery; the following view shows part of the exterior where it joins the Church.

Near one of the doors is a massive staircase with handrail of oak, undoubtedly part of the original structure, but most of the interior has been modernized, leaving few of its ancient features.

The North Aisle presents several admirable views which form most pleasing pictures.

Having taken a general survey of the interior, we will now examine some external objects of interest.


Passing into Cloth Fair we find some old houses, probably in existence when the martyrdoms took place; we here present a group of these buildings, seen on the right soon after entering that locality.

Having passed this group, and turning by the blacksmith’s, we obtain a glimpse of the exterior of the church, with some very picturesque, antique houses; forming together a quaint bit of Old London, worth a journey to see.

Going through the narrow passage under the houses we come to a portion of the building now used as the boys’ school.

The neighbourhood of Cloth Fair abounds with old houses; thither the clothiers and drapers of London repaired, and had their booths and standings within the churchyard of this Priory, closed in with walls and gates, locked every night and watched, for safety of men’s “goods and wares;” but Stowe says that in place of booths within the churchyard, only let out in the fair time, and closed all the year after, are many large houses built.

Rahere’s establishment was originally of considerable extent; it included the Close of St. Bartholomew, le Fermery, le Dorter, le Feuter, les Cloysters, les Galleries, le Hall, le Kitchen, le Buttery, le Pantry, le Olde Kitchen, le Woodhouse, le Garner, and le Prior’s Stable, the Prior’s House and Mulberry Garden. It was entirely enclosed with walls; the North Wall ran from Smithfield, along the south side of Long Lane to the East Wall near Aldersgate Street; and the West Wall from the south-west corner of Long Lane, along Smithfield to the Gate House, now the principal entrance to Bartholomew Close. The South Wall commenced at this Gate, ran east to Aldersgate Street, forming an angle, and joined the corner of the Eastern Wall, which ran parallel with Aldersgate Street.

How little of the original building now remains. At the time of its suppression by Henry VIII. it was nearly demolished for the value of the materials. Fortunately Rahere did not see its destruction, or even imagine that the Faith he had laboured so hard to spread would one day be superseded by a pure one; and all the pomp and ceremony of his ritual by a simple, reformed service.

For we are told that the Prior, with his officers and satellites waving censers, cross, relique, and banners, issued forth from the gate to offer the hospitality of his poor house to the King and his nobles when they attended the jousts and tournaments, so frequently held in the open space of Smithfield.

In Edward III.’s reign there was a tournament which lasted several days, and the King with his mistress, Alice Piers, was present.

In 1396, Richard II. on his marriage held a tournament, when sixty knights, accompanied by ladies, were to tilt for two days at Michaelmas. Heralds were sent through England, Scotland, France, Hainault, Germany, and Flanders. It began at three o’clock on Sunday after Michaelmas Day; sixty horses, richly caparisoned and surmounted by an Esquire of honour, proceeded in great state from the Tower; sixty ladies of rank, richly dressed, followed on their palfreys, and leading by a silver chain a Knight completely armed for tilting; minstrels and trumpets accompanied them. The Queen and her fair train received them. They tilted at each other till dark, then partook of a sumptuous banquet; and dancing was kept up till they were all fatigued. During the next two days the warlike sport was continued; the nights being spent in the same manner as before. The pomp and state must have been of the most magnificent description. All this took place just outside the Priory, on the spot that Rahere had been at so much trouble to level and fill up when Henry I. gave it him, and which was afterwards called “Smoothfield,” from his success in levelling it, and subsequently “Smithfield,” from the smith’s furnace used here.

We now introduce one of the celebrated executions that took place in Edward I. reign. Wallace was betrayed and arrested, brought to London, dragged in chains to Smithfield, hung on the gallows (which stood under the elms on the spot now called Cow Lane), taken down before he was dead, disembowelled, his head struck off by the executioner, and his body quartered and distributed over the kingdom. This happened in 1305.

We pass on to a scene enacted after the Reformation, in Queen Mary’s reign. An attempt was made to restore the Catholic religion here, by presenting the church to the Black Friars. When the great bell of St. Bartholomew’s tolled the crowd separated, the military cleared the way, and the sheriff, riding up to the gate of the Priory, claimed the bodies of those condemned in the Chapter-house; the spiritual delivering them to the sheriff, the representative of the temporal power, who delivered them to the executioner, when they were bound to that cursed post cased with iron to be devoured in the ruthless flames. The spot is now marked by a memorial nearly opposite the gateway which forms the entrance to the Church, and which still retains much of the ancient beauty of its arch; a representation of which forms the title page of this book.



IT appears that an Organ was set up here by the celebrated Richard Bridge, builder of those at St. Ann’s, Limehouse (destroyed by fire, 1850), St. George-in-the-East, St. Leonard, Shoreditch, St. Luke’s, Old St. Christ Church, Spital Fields, &c.

In Hopkins’ and Rimbault’s Organ Book is the following extract from the “Daily Advertiser” of October 27th, 1731:—“We hear that the curious new Organ, made by Mr. Bridge for the Church of St. Bartholomew the Great, is to be opened on Sunday next with an Anthem.”

When the Church was about to be restored, in 1868, this instrument was removed, and is said to have been “warehoused for preservation, but ultimately lost.”

The above engraving of it, from an original sketch made many years ago, and believed to be the only one extant, will perhaps prove the more interesting now that the fine old work of art can be no longer seen and heard in the venerable place for which it was built. It is to be hoped that the wooden erection at the entrance to the Choir may soon give place to a screen, surmounted by an organ, after the manner of that at St. Lawrence, Guildhall. Its case might present three fronts of pipes, a very fine example of which (probably the only one in or near London) exists at the Church of St. James the Great, Bethnal Green.

Particulars of Seals.

THE earliest Seals preserved are attached to a life grant to the Church of St. Sepulchre, from Rahere to Haynon a Priest, upon the condition of certain payments for the benefit of the canons and poor persons living in the Hospital; date 1137.

This Seal was cast eleven years after Rahere became Prior, and is a representation of him in his canonical dress.

Appended to a deed relating to the lease of a shop in the Parish of St. Nicholas, granted by Hugo Capellamus et Prixta and three others of the Brethren of the Hospital, to Hugo de Lecton, at a rental of 8d. per annum, payable quarterly, A.D. 1164.

Common Seal and Counter Seal, cast 1263; appended to a deed.

Hospital Seal appended to lease of a shop without Barbican; the lease is granted by William le Rous, Master of the Hospital, to John de Harewood and his sons, for the yearly rental of 3s. 4d., sterling money.

Hospital receipt seal. 20 Henry VIII.

The Common Seal of the Priory on a deed, 1341, between William de Stowe, priest of St. Edmund’s, and the Master and Brethren of the Hospital, relating to the gift of a certain messuage and shops in the parish of St. Sepulchre, without Newgate; the proceeds of which were to be applied to the remuneration of two chaplains of the Priory of St. Bartholomew, for chanting daily mass for his soul and the souls of his beloved parents.

Conventual Seal, used by the Friars Preachers at their restoration; the last Seal used by the Priory.



Bartholomew Fair. 1113 to 1855.

WE now record another privilege granted by the King to Rahere; viz., that of holding a Fair in Smithfield. Henry II. confirmed the Charter. It was originally instituted for the benefit of trade; the communication with distant parts being very difficult, from the badness of the roads and imperfect means of locomotion, and carriage of goods in the early ages; here the different dealers brought their wares and sold them, hence trade was benefited and also the Priory. The Fair commenced on St. Bartholomew’s Day, and originally lasted six weeks; but was latterly curtailed to three days. When Henry VIII. suppressed monasteries, he made a grant, dated 1554, to Sir Richard Rich, Chancellor to the Court of Augmentations. The annexed Fair was in this grant particularly mentioned to be held as when in possession of the Prior and Convent. Though originally instituted for the benefit of trade, it soon became the theatre of public diversion. It was so celebrated in Queen Elizabeth’s day, that Ben Jonson wrote a Play of that name. The first dramatic performances which took place in the Fair were probably instituted by the Priory, and consisted of representations of the Legends of Saints, especially those connected with the Church of St. Bartholomew; also Miracle Plays, the characters sustained by the Monks. In 1715, and for many years afterwards, the Fair was frequented by Actors of eminence. Dogget, so well-known for establishing the match for the Coat and Badge, and the celebrated Sheeter, had booths in the Fair.

In 1729 the Beggars Opera was performed here.

Fielding, the celebrated novelist, had a booth here many years, and depended upon it greatly for his livelihood; authorship being very ill paid and precarious in his time. Mrs. Pritchard, who performed Lady Macbeth to Garrick’s Macbeth acted in his booth.

The great Edmund Kean, and many other actors, also performed in the booths.

A curious custom prevailed, which was a greater nuisance than the Fair itself; at 12 o’clock at night of September 2nd, the day previous, a riotous mob assembled and carried a woman in procession as a representation of Lady Holland; they were called her mob, and the Fair was then proclaimed amidst the most hideous noise and tumultuous uproar.

The following day at noon the Lord Mayor, in his state coach, attended by his Sheriffs, City Marshals, &c., proceeded to Smithfield to proclaim the Fair. His lordship stopped at Newgate, where he was presented with a cool tankard by the keepers. He then proceeded along Giltspur Street to Cloth Fair. On his approach, musical instruments, consisting of drums, fiddles, cracked trumpets, broken bassoons, &c., were in readiness to salute his lordship with a grand concert. He was met by a motley group, consisting of Devils, Emperors, Kings, Harlequins, Clowns, Punch, &c., all splendidly arrayed. Upon reaching Cloth Fair, the Lord Mayor went through a house at the corner under the archway. Here the proclamation was made—whether there should be interludes or not. If the former, he was honoured with a burst of applause from the people at every booth; the concert was renewed, accompanied by the roaring of tigers, growls of bears, and the thrilling shrieks of hyenas. If, on the contrary, the Mayor interdicted shows, a sullen silence reigned for a few moments, when the indignation of the multitude was expressed by hisses, the most horrid yells, and sometimes personal indignities were offered to the Mayor. On such occasions great mischief has occurred. The Fair occupied the whole space of ground extending from the walls of the Hospital to, and covering, the site of the present Meat Market. Smithfield was formerly lined with pens, in which the live cattle were placed previous to their being sold. Here were erected the show booths, the most conspicuous of late years being that of Richardson’s; puppet shows, dancing bears, &c., were in abundance; the effect was greatly heightened by the noise of discordant bands of music, and cries of “Show them in,” “Just going to begin,” &c.

At last the Fair became such an intolerable nuisance that it was suppressed by Act of Parliament in Queen Victoria’s reign.

It consisted latterly merely of gingerbread stalls; and the proclamation of it since 1840 was made without the Mayor’s coach. In 1850, Alderman Musgrave, then Mayor, walked there with his attendants, and found no fair to proclaim. After that no Mayor attended to read the proclamation, which was written on a parchment scroll, but it was read by some gentlemen deputed for the purpose.

Five years afterwards this form was dispensed with, and Bartholomew Fair was proclaimed for the last time in 1855, after an existence of 742 years.

Bartholomew’s Hospital

NO record of the grant of the site nor the deed of endowment is preserved. But a charter of Henry I., dated 1133, is extant, granting Rahere power to found an Hospital with a Monastery; eight brethren and four sisters who were to have the care of such sick people and pregnant women as might need the benefit of the Institution.

Alfun, who built the Church of St. Giles, Cripplegate, was the first hospitaller; he used daily to beg for the relief of the poor in Smithfield.

The Hospital remained attached to the Priory until its dissolution. Four centuries after the foundation of the Hospital, the Mayors, Aldermen, and Commonalty of the City of London prayed the King to commit the government of the Hospital to their hands; the Hospital was transferred to them, 1547, and the King endowed it with 500 marks, upon condition that the citizens of London should contribute an equal sum.

The endowment was enlarged by Edward VI.; the charges of the Hospital for one year in his reign amounted to £855. The number of persons relieved by the Hospital at that time is not known, but it appears that 900 persons were assisted by it in the five following years after the renewal of the foundation. About 1660 the Hospital relieved annually 300 diseased persons, at an expense of £2,000. In 1729, the expense was; £10,245, and the patients 5,028. At present, not much less than 100,000 cases annually receive the best professional care and attendance; it is open day and night to receive accidents or other special cases. The number who can be accommodated within its walls at one time is nearly 500.

The government of the Hospital is vested in a President, Treasurer, &c.; the Treasurer has a house within the Hospital. Connected with the Hospital are three Physicians, and an Assistant Physician, and as many Masters and Assistant Surgeons, an Apothecary, besides dressers and subordinate officers. There is also an Hospitaller or Vicar of St. Bartholomew the Less.

The Hospital escaped the fire of 1666, but having become ruinous by age, in 1729 the greater part was pulled down.

The rebuilding was commenced in the following year, but not completed till 1770. It is on the south side of Smithfield; the principal entrance being under an arch, erected 1702, over which is a statue of Henry VIII., with two figures representing Lameness and Disease. The main building or quadrangle is three stories high; on the first floor of the north wing is the grand hall, 90 feet by 35 feet and 30 feet high—it is used for court meetings, &c. The grand staircase was painted gratuitously by Hogarth; the subjects being the Good Samaritan, the Pool of Bethesda, Rahere laying the foundation, and a sick man carried on a litter attended by monks. At the back of the west wing are the Lecture Room, Medical Theatre, Anatomical Museum, Dissecting Rooms, &c. The Library is considered superior to that of any other Hospital as a Medical Library, and contains some thousands of books.

The Church of St. Bartholomew the Less is within the walls of the Hospital, is octagonal in shape, with painted glass windows, is well heated with hot air, and is reckoned one of the handsomest chapels in London.

The Hospital is the oldest and richest of all our charitable institutions in London.

Many celebrated surgeons have been connected with the hospital; foremost among them being perhaps, William Harvey, born at Folkestone, April 1st, 1578, elected Fellow of the College of Physicians 1607, and who discovered the circulation of the blood; and Dr. Abernethy, born in 1765. Many anecdotes are told of Abernethy’s rough, brusque manner while speaking to his patients.

On one occasion he had shown a Royal Duke over the hospital, and upon the Duke desiring to inspect the dissecting room, the key of which Abernethy held in his hand, the latter told the Duke there were only two classes of persons admitted, the students and the dead subject, and he not belonging to either denomination, could not have the rules infringed for him.[A]

[A] This anecdote was related to the writer by an old pupil of his in the dissecting room of the Hospital.

Upon another occasion the Duke of York sent for him; while waiting for the Duke, he put his hands into his pockets and began to whistle; at length the Duke appeared, and feeling his dignity hurt by that style of conduct, asked Abernethy if he knew who he was; he replied, “Yes, and what of that?” and after enquiring the nature of the Duke’s ailments, told him he should treat them as the Duke of Wellington did: storm the out-works, and then he would get into the citadel. He died in 1831.


THERE is reason to believe that the manor of Canonbury formed one of the lay possessions described in Domesday Book at the time of the Norman Conquest. It came afterwards into the family of Berners, and forming part of their fee, it was as such included in the grant made to the Priory of St. Bartholomew, Smithfield, by Ralph de Berners, of lands and rents, with their appurtenances in Iseldon, held of the said fee, and enumerated among several other possessions of that monastery in a confirmation grant of King Henry III., by letters patent bearing date at Winchester, June 15th, 1253, in the 37th year of his reign. It is most probable that this site being pitched upon for a mansion for the Prior of the Canons of St. Bartholomew, received the name of Canonbury, as Canons, in Little Stanmore, had its name from belonging to the Canons of Bentley adjoining, which was a foundation previous to St. Bartholomew. Bury is synonymous with Bown or Burgh, and signifies generally a mansion or dwelling-place. The original mansion of Canonbury appears to have been built in 1362, ten years after the Priory of St. Bartholomew had been exempted from the payment of tenths and fifteenths, and every other subsidy, on account of the disproportion of their income to their great expenditure in works of charity.

Stowe informs us that Bolton, Prior from 1509 till his death, April 15th, 1532, “builded of new the Manor of Canonbury, which belonged to the Canons of that house.”

Canonbury was most pleasantly and conveniently situated. We can imagine the beautiful view they had from thence, standing, as it did, in the midst of the country, and surrounded by trees and orchards; in the far distance, in one direction, the silver Thames might be traced for miles; on the other, the old city lying quietly in its picturesque antiquity, and the tower of the Priory Church seen in advance of St. Paul’s, the intervening space not covered as now by buildings, and the atmosphere darkened by dense clouds of smoke.

At the general dissolution of Abbeys and religious houses under Henry VIII., the Priory of St. Bartholomew, with the Manor of Canonbury, was surrendered to the King, Oct. 25, 1539.

The Manor was, in 1539, bestowed on Thomas, Lord Cromwell, Lord Great Chamberlain of England, the chief instrument in dissolving the Monasteries and depressing the Clergy, Jan. 6th, 1539-40. Cromwell was created Earl of Essex, April 17th, 1540; committed to the Tower, July 9th; accused of high treason and heresy, July 19th; and beheaded, July 28th, when Canonbury reverted to the Crown. It was granted by Edward VI., 1547, in exchange for the site of the Priory of Tamworth, and in consideration of the sum of £1252 6s. 3d., to John Dudley of Warwick. This nobleman mortgaged it in 1549 to John Yorke, Esq., Citizen and Merchant Tailor of London, for £1660, but redeemed it in a very short time, and by deed of conveyance, dated July 18th, 4th of Edward VI., conveyed it back to the King, who after keeping it two years, restored it by a fresh grant to John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland; who in a few months was attainted and beheaded, August 22nd, 1553, under Queen Mary, who then granted it in 1557 to Thomas Lord Wentworth; who alienated it in 1570 to John, afterwards John Spenser, Knight and Baronet of Walsingfield, Suffolk, from his great wealth called rich Spenser; of whom is related the following anecdote:—In Queen Elizabeth’s time a pirate of Dunkirk laid a plot with twelve of his mates to carry off Sir John Spenser, which, if he had done, £50,000 had not redeemed him. He came over the seas in a shallop, with twelve musketeers, and in the night arrived at Barking Creek, leaving the shallop in custody of six of his men; with the other six he came as far as Islington, and there hid themselves in ditches near the path along which Sir John always came to his house; but by the providence of God, Sir John, upon some extraordinary occasion, was forced to stay in London that night, otherwise they had taken him away; and they, fearing they should be discovered, in the night-time returned to their shallop, and so came safe to Dunkirk again. He died at an advanced age, March 30th, 1609, and was buried at St. Helen’s, Bishopgate.

Sir John had by his Lady, Alice Broomhall, one sole daughter and heiress, Elizabeth; according to tradition, carried off from Canonbury House in a baker’s basket, by contrivance of William second Lord Compton, Lord President of Wales, to whom, in 1594, she was married.

Lord Compton met with a very singular death; after he had waited on the King at supper, and had also supped, he took a boat to wash himself in the Thames; as soon as he was up to his knees in the water, he was attacked with the colic, and cried out, “Have me into the boat again, or I am a dead man,” and died a few hours afterwards, June 24, 1630. He was created Earl of Northampton twelve years before his death.

Canonbury Tower has still a very quaint appearance; its walls are in some parts covered with ivy, and in the garden at the back may still be seen some mulberry trees, probably planted by Bolton, or, at all events, produced from the trees he planted. Undoubtedly he passed many pleasant hours in these grounds. From a fish-pond, formerly in these premises, well stocked with the finny tribe, was the supply drawn to furnish the good Prior’s table on Fridays, when he fasted, or on other days when forbidden to eat meat. The edifice, with its domestic offices, spacious garden grounds and park, covered nearly the whole site of what is now called Canonbury Place.


One large house, having a tower of brick 17 feet square and 60 feet high, which still retains much of its original character, is the most striking remains; Prior Bolton is supposed to have erected this portion.


The two principal rooms are situate on the first and second storeys, facing Canonbury Lane; are each 20 feet square and 12 feet high, handsomely fitted with a wainscot of oak from floor to ceiling in a complete state of preservation, which appears to have been done by Sir John Spenser during his residence at Canonbury.

We now give a view of the room occupied by Oliver Goldsmith, and in which he is supposed to have written his “Vicar of Wakefield;” it is situated on the first floor.


A view of the interior of the room on the second floor is given on the next page.


The previous engraving represents a portion of the original staircase of oak, at the upper part of the Tower.

Since the Reformation many illustrious persons have resided at Canonbury.

In 1582, Sir Arthur Atye, Public Orator of Oxford University.

Thomas Egerton, Baron of Ellesmere, signed the Charter of Incorporation to the Butchers’ Company when Lord Chancellor, and while on a visit to Sir John Spenser in 1605.

The Compton family resided here. A daughter of Lord Compton was born here in 1605.

Lord Keeper Coventry rented the place from 1627 to 1635.

The Earl of Derby dated a letter from Canonbury Park, January 29, 1635, “where he was staid from St. James’ by the greatest snow he ever saw in England.”

William Fielding, Earl of Denbigh, died here in 1685.

Several literary characters have lodged here.

Samuel Humphries died here, January 11, 1737.

Ephraim Chambers, Author of “Cyclopædia,” died here while engaged on that work in 1740.

John Newbury, author of several books for children; and here, Dr. Oliver Goldsmith, under pressing pecuniary circumstances, is said to have written the “Vicar of Wakefield;” the good-natured bookseller, Newbury, then renting the house, and employing Goldsmith to write for him and giving him shelter. Before residing in the Tower, Goldsmith lived near here, in the house of Mrs. Elizabeth Fleming, 1762. The sum stipulated to be paid was £50 a year; Newbury, being cash-bearer to the Poet, paid his rent quarterly, taking credit for such payment in the settlement of their account.

Goldsmith was particularly fond of Islington, it was his custom to enjoy what he termed his shoemakers’ holiday, which was a day of great festivity with the Poet. Three or four of his intimate friends met at his lodgings in the Tower to breakfast; about ten or eleven o’clock they proceeded by the City Road and through the fields to Highbury Barn to dinner; about six o’clock they adjourned to White Conduit House to tea; and concluded by supping at the “Grecian” or “Temple” Coffee Houses, or at the “Globe” in Fleet Street.

By the marriage of Lord Compton (afterwards Earl of Northampton) the Canonbury estate was carried into his family, and the Earl of Northampton is its present proprietor.