Introduction: Changes at the Reformation

Pages lxx-lxxii

The Medieval Records of A London City Church St Mary At Hill, 1420-1559. Originally published by Trübner, London, 1905.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.



The story of the alterations in St. Mary's church consequent on the Reformation is set down very clearly in our text. In the brief reign of Edward very great changes are recorded by the churchwardens. Under Mary a return to the old system takes place, more or less fully, and with the accession of Elizabeth comes the complete downfall and collapse of the old order.

In this little chapter no attempt has been made to deal with the general aspects of the Reformation, the plan adopted having been simply to collect and place before the reader the principal entries of the churchwardens' expenses in carrying out the decrees of authority.

1547–53. Destruction and Alterations.—The first items in our text which disclose the progress of the Reformation are found under the year 1547–8, where at pp. 386, 387, we see certain sums of money set down as having been paid for the removal of various substantial fittings.

Further sums are also paid for investigations concerning the Chantries, for the purchase of psalters 'for the quyer,' and for the painting of certain 'scriptures' on the rood loft.

In the year 1548–9 we meet with the greatest change in these Records, when, the Chantries having fallen to the king, the entries of their income and expenditure disappear wholly from the annual accounts.

In this year, too, we have the important record of the purchase of two copies of the first edition of the new Book of Common Prayer. The churchwardens also sell the gilt of three 'ymages' and two painted cloths, one of which was purchased by the only churchwarden apparently then in office.

The next year's accounts, 1549–50, record the sale of two of the old service books and a chalice, a pax, a silver bell and twelve ounces of silver, this scrap silver 'beyng claspes of bokes and the busshops myter,' pp. 389 and 58–9.

In this year, too, the 'Table' that 'stode vpon the Alter' was sold (the 'Table of the Trynete,' p. 33), and 'laborers' were employed for 'vj dayes for takyng downe the Alters,' p. 391, three shillings and fourpence being received for one of the slabs for use as a grave-stone, p. 390.

In 1551-2 the 'Inventory of our Churche gooddes' was written (see p. 50), and an entry of the purchase of 'bred and wyne' is recorded. An entry also occurs of sixpence being paid—
"vnto a goulde smith for to take the sylluer ffrom a gospell boke & to waye it," p. 393.

1553–8. Reconstruction of the Old System.—In 1553 the accounts furnish very curiously the conflicting particulars of expenses connected with both the new and the old forms of service; the reason being that this year covered both the end of the reign of Edward VI and the commencement of that of Queen Mary.

Respecting the former we have the entry telling of the sale of four pieces of hair cloth from the old altars. Also another entry recording the payment to carpenter Wynne (by whom for so many years the carpentry work had been carried out) for the making of 'a benche yat went Rownd abowt ye comvnyon boorde.' Sixpence too is paid—
"for the sowynge together of the best alter clothes for to laye on the Commvnyon boorde," p. 396.

On the other side, that of the reconstructing of the old system, we find entries recording the purchase of a chrismatory of pewter and apparently of several books of the old services, p. 396.

On p. 395 two peculiarly interesting entries are recorded:—
"payed for nayles to mende the kytchyn when yt was broken downe for the alter stone."
"payed to the plasterer for plasterynge the kytchyn."

The amounts for these two items have perished with part of the leaf, but clearly the 'alter stone' (presumably the slab of the high altar) had been built into the wall of a kitchen possibly as a temporary expedient for its security.

In 1554, and for several years after, the old forms are in great measure restored, and many of the common entries of former years again reappear.

A new 'shyppe' for incense is purchased, which however, like the chrismatory lately referred to, is also of pewter.

An interesting item on p. 397 is that of the payment of one shilling and eightpence 'for puttyng owt of the scrypture in the roode lofte,' which only in 1547–8 had been painted on at a cost of £4.

On the same page is also an entry recording the purchase of two loads of 'lyme to make the altars,' and at p. 407 the record of the 'borrowynge' of a cross, two candlesticks and a censer, all of which were of silver.

1559. Final Destruction of the Old Forms and Reconstitution of the New.—In 1559, pp. 411–12, the last complete pages of our text, record the details of the final collapse of the ancient forms.

The communion table is made, and the great Rood with its figures of Mary and John, the 'sepulcure,' and the altars, are all taken down. An entry recording that five men were called in with 'v doble rafters' to 'helpe tack downe the great auterston,' tells also of one rafter being broken. The fact helps us, in a measure, to picture the scene in the old church. The demolition appears to have been very complete, so much so that money was expended for—
"lyme & sande, and for whiting wher ye awltrs wer," p. 412.

The sum of sixteenpence too was paid—
"to whight ye raker for too carry awaie all ye rubbushe of ye auters yat did ly at ye cherch dore," p. 412.

By rubbish is probably meant the rubble or loose material.

Our notice of these great changes may close with the record of the payment of twelvepence—
"for bringging downe of ye Imagis to rome lond and other thinges to be burnt," p. 412.

Such is a brief outline of the sequence of events in the parish church of St. Mary's as set down at the time of the Reformation by the churchwardens.

The student will find in our text additional details bearing on the history of the period; and the Inquiries of the Commissioners respecting the valuables of the church, etc., printed at p. 56, will also be found worthy of attention.