Historical Gazetteer of London Before the Great Fire Cheapside; Parishes of All Hallows Honey Lane, St Martin Pomary, St Mary Le Bow, St Mary Colechurch and St Pancras Soper Lane. Originally published by Centre for Metropolitan History, London, 1987.
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This entry concerns the house where Thomas Becket, the martyred archbishop of Canterbury, was born; the hospital of St. Thomas of Acre, which was established on the site of the house and was then extended over several neighbouring properties; the hall and chapel of the Mercers' Company, which were first set up within the church of the hospital; the rebuilding of the hall and chapel in the early 16th century; and the site of the dissolved hospital, part of which after the Great Fire came to be occupied by the third hall and chapel of the Mercers' Company.
Becket's birthplace and the hospital of st. Thomas of acre
The order of St. Thomas of Acre was established in the Holy Land at the time of the third crusade, when the cult of Becket was spreading rapidly throughout Europe. In the 1220s the order was re-established according to the military rule of the Teutonic knights, and in 1227-8 it acquired as a site for a church the land in St. Mary Colechurch parish where Becket had been born. Over the next 40 years this site was enlarged and eventually, in the fourteenth century, the London house became the headquarters of the order. The military role of the order was gradually abandoned, although even after the fall of Acre a presence and some estates were maintained in the east. By the 15th century the brothers in London were living according to the rule of St. Augustine. (fn. 1) The house was dissolved in 1538, and at that time its precinct included a large church, cloisters, a chapter house, and other buildings. The following account is concerned essentially with the topography of the site and with the role of the order within the city of London, which from the 13th century onwards served as its principal source of income and popular support.
The site of the hospital
Popular interest in the house where Thomas had been born no doubt developed soon after the martyrdom, and especially after the canonization in 1173. There is some indirect evidence for this in the role attributed to the parish priest of the neighbourhood, Peter capellanus de Colechurch, as initiator of the rebuilding of London Bridge in stone, a project which was probably undertaken between the late 1170s and the early 13th century. In 1179-80 at least five guilds in the city were concerned with the support of the bridge, which was perhaps the most important single symbol of the link between the cities of the martyr's birth and death. Most Londoners on pilgrimage to Canterbury would have begun their journey by crossing the bridge, where they would have passed the chapel dedicated to Thomas. In 1205 Peter of Colechurch was buried in this chapel. (fn. 2) At some time during the first two decades of the 13th century, the citizens of London intended to purchase the land ubi sanctus Thomas archiepiscopus Cantuariensis natus fuit in the parish of St. Mary Colechurch in order to erect a chapel there. Thomas de Haverell assigned a 20s. rent in order to acquit the land of the services due to the capital lords of the fee. The record of this assignment cannot be closely dated, but de Haverell is not known to have been alive after 1220. It seems likely that this apparently civic enterprise both reflected the citizens' continuing interest in the saint whom they adopted as their patron, and was associated with a special concern for Thomas at the time of the jubilee of the martyrdom and the translation of the relics at Canterbury in the year 1220. Certainly at that time, about 1219 or a little before, the community of citizens asserted its link with St. Thomas by commissioning from a craftsman of the highest quality a common seal depicting the saint as their protector. (fn. 3)
It is also possible that the citizens acquired other property nearby which was associated with St. Thomas, including the cellar beneath the parish church of St. Mary, and perhaps over the church itself (see 105/0).
From later evidence, discussed below, it is clear that the lords of the fee, mentioned by Thomas de Haverell, were the Marmion family. De Haverell may have avoided naming the family in his grant because of the uncertainty which prevailed over the estate following the death of Robert Marmion III, which probably occurred in 1217 and had certainly taken place by May 1218. Robert's elder son, Robert Marmion IV, had interests in Normandy and was in conflict with the king. Robert IV obtained his lands in 1220, but by January of the following year they had passed into the control of the bishop of Winchester, with whom they remained until Robert died c. 1241-3. When and how the Marmion family acquired its interest in Becket's birthplace is not known. The family had succeeded to many of the lands held in 1086 by Robert Dispensator, but this Robert held no lands near London. By 1166, however, Robert Marmion held half a knight's fee from the bishop of London. This land was presumably close to the city, and the family may by this date have acquired the property in Cheapside. (fn. 4)
Whatever the outcome of the citizens' activity during the early part of the 13th century, the next recorded stage in the evolution of the cult of St. Thomas on this site in Cheapside took the form of a grant, in 1227-8, of the land to the newly reorganized order of St. Thomas of Acre. The land was said formerly to have belonged to Gilbert Beket, father of St. Thomas the martyr, and the intention was to build there a basilica in the saint's honour. The land had descended from Gilbert Beket, to St. Thomas's sister Agnes. In abutments from adjoining properties it is described in 1206-7 as the land of Agnes Beket, at some time between c. 1220 and c. 1237 as the land which Richard Bocard held of Lady (domina) Agnes Beket, and in the 1240s as the land of the heirs of Agnes Beket. (fn. 5) Agnes's heir was her nephew (or possibly son), Theobald de Helles, and in 1227-8 his son Thomas granted the land to the hospital of St. Thomas of Acre in pure and perpetual alms, saving only the service due to two capital fees. (fn. 6) This service took the form of quit-rent totalling 20s., probably that with which Thomas de Haverell had formerly been concerned. In 1249-50 Philip Marmyun, knight, conveyed this rent to the hospital by means of two grants. One, in pure alms, concerned 5s. of the rent together with the soke and other liberties pertaining to the tenement. The other, by which Marmyun reserved 1/2d. rent to himself and his heirs concerned 15s. of the rent. (fn. 7) Philip was the son of Robert Marmion IV, and had come into his inheritance by c. 1241.
The church of St. Thomas Acre
At a date between 1231 and 1241 the brothers of the hospital of St. Thomas were said to be dwelling in the novus locus built on this site. (fn. 8) In 1234 their precinct was enlarged by the acquisition of a property in Old Jewry, and an adjacent property to the N. was purchased c. 1240 (see 19 and 20, and Fig. 10). In the late 1240s the precinct was further extended, probably with a view to establishing a substantial church on the site. This expansion may have been made possible by means of donations arising from the renewed interest in crusading activity during those years. The king himself gave money in 1239 for the maintenance of the poor at the hospital and in 1247 purchased a chalice for use there. (fn. 9) In 1247-8 the hospital acquired the parish church of St. Mary Colechurch (q.v.) and the substantial house which adjoined it to the W. and N. on the corner of Old Jewry and Cheapside (see 19 and Fig. 10). By a papal bull of June 1248 the brothers were permitted to construct a chapel for their own use next to their house, a grant which suggests that the basilica proposed in 1227-8 had not in fact been built. This chapel may have occupied the N. part of the property acquired in 1247-8. The brothers obtained episcopal permission in 1249 to use a plot of land next to their oratory as a cemetery for all who wished to be buried there, saving the rights of the churches to whose parishes the dead belonged, and between 1254 and 1261 a similar privilege was confirmed by papal bull. (fn. 10) In 1258- 9 the wall of the chapel of St. Thomas was said to adjoin the E. side of 17 towards the Cheapside frontage while the house of the order lay further back towards the N. Later the entry to the chapel (or church as it was regularly described from the early 14th century onwards) occupied this position on Cheapside between 17 on the W. and 19 on the E. (fn. 11) The hospital was probably about to extend its church westward in 1261-2 when it acquired the rear part of 105/17, for 105/16 was later said to adjoin the church to the E. This extension may have been in the course of being built in 1268-9, when there was an adjustment of boundaries between the hospital and the owner of 16. As a result the hospital acquired a narrow strip of ground approximately equal in length to the later W. wall of the church (see 16). In 1380 this W. wall was in a ruinous condition (see 16) and three years later another programme of repairs was under way. (fn. 12) The west door of the church mentioned in 1537 (see 16) was presumably in this wall and would have been approached from Ironmonger Lane across the yard within 16. The principal entry to the church, however, was probably always from Cheapside. Another building programme may have been under way in 1339, when a bequest was made for the new work at the church, and there were numerous similar bequests during the following decades. This activity followed one of the periodic crises in the hospital's finances, for which there is evidence early in Edward III's reign, and from which a temporary recovery may be marked by the royal confirmation of the hospital's possession of its estates in 1340. There is a further reference to new building in 1502. (fn. 13)
From the 13th to the early 16th century the church of St. Thomas was a place where many citizens of London chose to be buried and it attracted many minor legacies and endowments for chantries and obits. Between 1428 and 1515 several members of the family of the earls of Ormond, who were closely associated with the hospital and mistakenly claimed a blood relationship with the martyr, were buried there. (fn. 14) Uncertainty over the hospital's role and status, however, led to difficulties over making the most of these gifts. In 1327 the hospital's depressed state was attributed to want of good rule and the withdrawal of chantries, and in 1444 the master and brothers sought and obtained confirmation of their power to hold and acquire property. (fn. 15) During the 1440s and 1450s, under the mastership of John Neel, a determined effort seems to have been made to put the hospital on a sure footing and to raise cash, perhaps especially by exploiting the cult of St. Thomas and the association with the earls of Ormond. In 1458 a papal indulgence was granted to those who visited or made an offering to the house on Tuesdays, a day of special significance in the life of the saint. (fn. 16) Throughout its history the hospital in London appears to have depended for its maintenance on cash gifts and offerings as much as, or more than, its endowed income. The records associated with many of these gifts and with the burials there enable us to piece together some idea of the arrangement of the church from the later 14th century onwards.
The overall size and shape of the church can be established from the records of the adjoining properties and of the Mercers' hall and chapel which were erected on its site after the Great Fire of 1666. Newcourt, who knew the church before the Fire, when it was used in its entirety as the Mercers' chapel, described a 'large and noble structure' with a choir, a nave (or 'body'), and side aisles. In 1538 the choir, nave, and N. and S. aisles each had their own leaded roofs. The plan of the central and eastern part of the church may have been preserved in the layout of the ambulatory and chapel of the buildings erected after the Fire, though now destroyed. (fn. 17) It is even possible that the two rows of pillars in the ambulatory closely followed the earlier nave and aisle arrangement.
Within this apparently simple basic plan numerous altars and chapels were accommodated. The high altar was probably that dedicated to St. Thomas, towards the remaking of which Sir Thomas Hill's widow Elizabeth left money in 1501. In September 1538, at the same time as the martyr's shrine in Canterbury was being dismantled, an image of St. Thomas at the high altar of this church was taken down, together with a representation of his martyrdom on the altar itself, where there was also a text stating that the saint had been born on the site. (fn. 18) These images may have been paid for with the money left by Elizabeth Hill, and it certainly seems that in the years after her legacy the altar of St. Thomas was particularly prominent in the church. An alternative possibility is that the high altar, which presumably faced down the central axis of the church and is mentioned on a number of occasions without reference to a dedication, was not identical with that dedicated to St. Thomas, although there may have been images of St. Thomas associated with it. In the 16th century the cult of St. Thomas was strongly associated with the northern part of the church (cf. below) and it is possible that the principal altar dedicated to him was in the N. aisle. In 1505, for example, Thomas Garthe wished to be buried in the N. aisle before the altar of St. Thomas and left a vestment to the altar of St. Thomas in the body of the church. No firm conclusion as to the position of these altar(s) is possible, and the situation may be further confused because references to the N. aisle, the N. side of the church, and the body or nave of the church may not always have had the precise significance which we would now attribute to these terms. The earl of Ormond, who died in 1515 and had had a room in the hospital, wished to be buried on the N. side of the high altar, where there was probably an Easter Sepulchre. (fn. 19)
The choir, which was presumably between the high altar and the nave, is first mentioned in 1372. There are several references to the Lady Chapel, presumably to the E. of the choir, where the altar of St. Mary in childbirth (in gisina), mentioned in 1368, was probably located. (fn. 20) At the S.E. corner of the church, close to the parish church of St. Mary Colechurch, was a chapel dedicated to the Holy Cross, first mentioned in 1365, and in 1430, when the countess of Ormond wished to be buried there, known as the roode of Lukes. This was probably the capella Lucanorum, where in 1426 Stephen Martyn of Lucca wished to be buried. In 1518 another Lucca merchant who expected to die in London directed that his body be laid to rest in the church. (fn. 21) The men of Lucca were presumably drawn to the church of St. Thomas as traders in silk enjoying a common interest with the London mercers who had their home there. Even after the hospital had been dissolved the Italian associations of the church continued (see below).
In the 15th century the choir was divided from the nave by a screen with a rood loft. A door in this screen is mentioned in 1417, when John Shawe wished to be buried by the door of the 'high choir'. A 'high cross', perhaps over the screen, is mentioned in 1405, when Ralph Freman wished to be buried in front of it. The screen and the stalls in the choir were a well-known and perhaps recently renewed feature in 1475, when they were cited as models for the choir stalls and for the inner face of the rood loft then to be built in Eton College chapel. The outer face of the Eton loft was to be modelled on that which had recently been erected at Winchester College. Neither the Eton nor the Winchester screens and stalls survived long enough to be recorded in any known depiction of the college chapels. There can be no doubt, however, that the screen at St. Thomas of Acre was an impressive piece of work, as is implied by the apparent reference to it in 1542 as the joined work which was 'colossed about' the altars by the choir door. (fn. 22)
In the body of the church to the W. of the choir, the N. side was clearly of special importance. In the 1530s sermons were preached there, and the windows in the N. wall attracted a good deal of attention on account of their glass depicting scenes from the life of St. Thomas. These included one of monks about to sourge the naked figure of King Henry. In September 1538 this glass, which did not contribute to the dignity of the monarchy, was removed and by early October, before the dissolution of the house later that month, the windows had been reglazed. (fn. 23) These windows may have been particularly suited for a fine display of painted glass since it is likely that light on the S. side of the church was restricted by the private houses on the Cheapside frontage. The strong association of the N. part of the church with the cult of St. Thomas made it a popular place for burial. One of the most impressive monuments there was that of Sir Edmund Shaa who in 1488 directed that he be buried in the body of the church between the pillar where there was an image of the Archangel Michael before the altar of St. Thomas and the nether (presumably the W.) end of the church. Shaa's grave was to be covered with a marble slab and an altar was to be set there at which his obit was to be celebrated. The whole area, later known as Shaa's chapel, was to be enclosed with an iron fence containing a gate. (fn. 24) A chapel of St. Nicholas in the N. aisle is mentioned in 1481, and in 1453 Henry Frowyk, mercer, wished to be buried in the church on the S. side of the chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas and St. Stephen. Stow said that this chapel was over a charnel. In 1433 Martin Aleyn, citizen and leatherseller, left money for setting up an image of St. Martin with a tabernacle, a pinnacle, a light, and a portable breviary on the S. side of the nave opposite the altar of St. Thomas. A chapel said in 1449 to have been newly begun cannot otherwise be identified. (fn. 25) The largest of the chapels was probably that of the Mercers, which with their hall occupied the S.W. part of the church, to the W. of the principal entry into the church from Cheapside. This hall and chapel were probably accommodated within an extension southwards from the S. aisle (see below).
The latest additions to the church were perhaps the two chapels on the N. side mentioned in 1544 and 1550. One of them was then known as the vestry and the other was said to have been erected by John Sandel, who died in 1532. Sandel's chapel had its own roof and so was probably an addition to the main body of the church. It was presumably the new chapel dedicated to our Lady of Grace on the N. side of the church in which he wished to be buried. Both these chapels may have been towards the E. end of the church near the Lady Chapel. In 1535 there was a little chapel adjoining the N. side of the church at its W. end mentioned in a view of the bounds of 16. In 1494 the church contained a chapel of the Holy Trinity, the location of which is uncertain. (fn. 26)
The overall impression conveyed is of a substantial church, some 120 ft. (36.58 m.) in length, 50 ft. (15.24 m.) in breadth at its narrowest, and 100 ft. (30.48 m.) in breadth at its widest. This was about the same size as the surviving priory church of St. Helen, Bishopsgate, and about half the length of the priory church of Holy Trinity Aldgate. Within these overall dimensions a good deal of space was separated off for use as chapels with an essentially private function. This and the variety of other uses to which the church was put (see below), perhaps made it difficult for the brothers of the hospital adequately to fulfil the liturgical requirements of their rule. It is not clear whether a part of the church was set aside specifically for the use of the religious, as was the case, for example, at St. Helen's Priory. Given the presence of the Mercers' Company in the S. part of the church, the journeymen weavers towards the N., and the mayor and aldermen and the choir, however, it seems likely that there was no strict separation. The difficulty of maintaining liturgical standards during the early 16th century is implied by the attempts made at that time to ensure the attendance of the Mercers' chaplains in the choir and to expel lay singers therefrom. (fn. 27)
The hospital precinct and buildings
The precinct of the hospital, extending north from the church as far as the modern Church Passage and the churchyards of St. Martin and St. Olave, may have evolved considerably between the 13th and the 16th centuries. It is possible that some of the private structures of stone acquired during the 13th century were adapted for use by the brothers. The great gate into the precinct was in Old Jewry in the middle of a row of houses belonging to the hospital, and probably on the site of the entry to the great house which occupied the precinct in the 16th and 17th centuries. There were also lay residences within the precinct. Thus by his testament in 1348 Henry atte Roche, chandler, gave up to the master and brothers the remainder of the term he had in the properties which he held of them, domo mansione in qua inhabito infra portam excepta, and between 1517 and 1531 the hospital had an income of between £1. 10s. and £4. 6s. a year from letting chambers in the precinct. (fn. 28) In the 15th century the hospital buildings stood around at least two courtyards. Repairs in 1449-50 concerned a chamber on the N. side of the yard, a new chamber there, a gutter taking water out of the little yard, the gutter between the kitchen and the old hall, the privy, the great gateway, the library window, and a chamber over a stone house called 'Bettyr Logge'. (fn. 29) It is tempting to identify this last structure with the stone chamber and cellar which in the early 13th century belonged to Peter son of William son of Alulf and the site of which, so far as we can tell, would have been just north of the choir of the later church. One of the abuses at the hospital during the early 16th century was the intermingling of laymen and brothers within the precinct, and the steps taken to remedy this involved structural changes. In 1515 the master proposed to build a 'frater house' where the brothers could eat and drink apart from lay persons. The brothers were also provided with a private place for recreation, and in 1514 the hospital took from the Grocer's Company on a 99-year lease at £10 p.a. rent a garden about a sixth of an acre in extent and containing stables and other buildings lying in St. Olave parish on the E. side of Old Jewry. In order further to increase the seclusion of this arrangement the hospital in 1518 obtained permission to construct a gallery over the street connecting the precinct with the garden at a point to the S. of the great gate. The gallery was to include windows and a light in winter. (fn. 30)
Some impression of the arrangement of the precinct at the moment the hospital was dissolved can be obtained from the valuation of the hospital in 1538 and the grant of the site to the Mercers' Company in 1542. Also valuable are the descriptions, in 1542 and 1544, of those parts of the precinct which were excepted from the leases granted by the company of the 'mansion or great place' formerly inhabited by the master of the hospital on the N. side of the precinct , and the descriptions of those parts of the hospital which in 1518 and 1535 were said to be next to 16. (fn. 31)
Adjoining the N. side of the church was the great cloister, to the W. of which and next to the northernmost part of 16 was the little cloister. The chapter house and library over it with a gallery (perhaps that leading across the street) were on the E. side of the great cloister. At the W. end of the great cloister was the auditors' chamber. Further W., where they adjoined 16 in 1518, were a woodhouse and a coalhouse, the site of which in 1535 was occupied by a little house. Next to the church were the sexton's chamber with two rooms adjoining and two chambers over. One of these rooms was probably assigned to the chaplain of the Mercers' Company, for in 1544, when the company was in possession of the church, the mass priest's chamber seems to have been next to the one where the sexton lodged. There was a vestry, perhaps accommodated in a disused chapel (cf. above), and a treasure house with a little yard next to it. There are also references to a churchyard in addition to the cloisters, to a house of evidence (presumably a muniment room), and to a council house.
By the early 16th century the hospital included a grammar school which had perhaps been founded as a result of a petition of 1447. Henry Frowyk by his will drawn up in 1453, left money for educating two choristers, but the hospital's educational tradition may already have been a long one. In 1517 there were some chambers over the school which had been let out to private tenants but were now used by the hospital for its own internal purposes. Soon after the Mercers' Company acquired the precinct the school was held in the south part of the cloister and this may also have been the case before the hospital was dissolved. (fn. 32)
The church of st. Thomas as a public building
As befitted the local centre of the cult of one of the city's two patron saints the church of St. Thomas played an important part in the public life of London. On the city's seal were displayed on one side St. Paul and on the other St. Thomas, both presiding over the city. This polar relationship between the two saints was reinforced by the setting of their churches at opposite ends of Cheapside. During the 14th and 15th centuries Cheapside had a well-recorded role as a formal procession way linking the cathedral and the church of St. Thomas of Acre. After dinner on his oath-taking day (29 October) the mayor processed with the aldermen from St. Thomas's to St. Paul's, where they paid their respects at the graves of the saint's parents, and then returned to make offerings at the saint's birthplace. On All Saints Day (1 November) the mayor, aldermen, and the chief men (probi homines) and livery of the crafts gathered at St. Thomas's before going to hear Vespers at St. Paul's. The mayor, aldermen, and sheriffs made similar processions on Christmas Day, on the day following, and on 6 May. On 28 December, 29 December, 1 January, 6 January, and 2 February they heard Vespers at St. Thomas's, and on 29 December, the day of the martyrdom, they also heard mass there. The church thus served as a particular focus for civic ceremonial during autumn and winter. In Whit week, when the incumbents of London churches and those of the adjacent archdeaconries processed with the mayor and aldermen to St. Paul's, the procession for the archdeaconry of Essex assembled at St. Thomas's. (fn. 33) The assemblies on these days took place within the church rather than in the street outside, for in 1525 it was agreed that when the mayor and aldermen associated together at the church of St. Thomas of Acre they should assemble in the choir and not in private places and chapels, (fn. 34) an indication perhaps of the degree to which the church was now given over to private uses.
Important moments in the city's daily cycle were marked by the bells at St. Thomas's, which presumably could be heard and recognized throughout the city. Thus, in the first half of the 14th century, the wickets in the city gates were to be opened when prime was rung at the church and the ringing of vespers there was supposed to mark the end of daily trading in Cheapside. (fn. 35)
The church's setting in Cheapside and its civic and devotional associations gave it an important role as a place for conducting private business, a function fulfilled by most churches in the city, but one for which the church of St. Thomas was particularly suited. Thus it was commonly specified as a place where debts were to be repaid; (fn. 36) after 1501 special mention was made of the altar of St. Thomas for this purpose. (fn. 37) Inquests and important arbitrations were held in the church, (fn. 38) and muniments and valuables were to be deposited there 'or in some other indifferent place'. (fn. 39) It was thus appropriate that in 1450 the members of the scriveners' craft assembled there to draw up ordinances, and the church may have been the craft's regular meeting place. At about the same time journeymen weavers who wished to be hired were to walk there between St. Thomas's altar and the north side of the church between the hours of four and six in the morning. (fn. 40) Other crafts came to use the church in a more formal way. In the early 16th century the brothers of the Leathersellers' Company regularly attended there on 15 August, (fn. 41) although it is not clear whether this attendance was unique to them or was in common with other crafts. The bakers, however, had a particular and long-standing association with the church. By 1382 it was customary for them to hold their courts called halymotz twice a year in the church before the mayor and sheriffs. The practice persisted a century later, and even after the company had acquired a hall of its own the association with the church continued. (fn. 42) In the late 14th century the guild of carpenters ordained a fraternity for maintaining a taper in the church, and in 1466 the brewers proposed to establish a mass to be celebrated daily in the Lady Chapel for the benefit of their members. There were probably several other fraternities associated with the church, such as the fraternity of St. Margaret there, to which a scrivener resident in St. Mary Colechurch parish left a small sum of money in 1493. (fn. 43)
The most enduring of these associations was with the company of mercers, whose trade had been practised at the eastern end of Cheapside since at least as early as the 13th century. By 1391 the company was meeting in la sale de seynt Thom' dacres, and the annual election of wardens was held there until 1418. Subsequently the election alternated between the Princes' Wardrobe (95/8-12) and the house of an outgoing warden. Fifteenth- and early 16th- century references show that the Mercers had a hall and chapel at St. Thomas of Acre. They may already have had the use of the rooms in 1391, but their formal acquisition of them may date from 1407, when indentures were made between the company and the hospital, and 1417, when indentures of confirmation were written concerning la petite chambre et chapel. Several lists of the contents of the chapel survive and the company's repair accounts show that the hall had a lead roof, a fireplace, a chest for evidences, and glazed windows. In 1448 the windows were decorated with the company's sign of the Maiden's Head. The hall appears to have offered spacious and dignified accommodation suitable for public events. One such event took place in 1467, following a joust at Smithfield between Lord Scales and the Bastard of Burgundy, when the king and queen caused a supper to be held en le Grange des Merciers. The reference can only be to Mercers' Hall, and the supper was attended by many ladies of high birth. In 1471 a past master of the company, Sir John Stokton, directed in his will that the roof of the hall was to be ceiled with softwood panelling (estrich bord) at the cost of his estate. Stokton died in 1473, and in 1474 the Mercers decided that they would complete the ceiling at their own cost if Stokton's widow would not do it at hers. It is a measure of Lady Stokton's unwillingness to contribute that on this occasion the company determined that the ceiling should bear no other badges or arms than its own. By August 1477 the ceiling had been made and was lying in the hall, but it remained uncertain whether Lady Stokton would pay for it to be set up. (fn. 44)
The company's chapel was within the church of St. Thomas, probably near the door of the church, for in 1510 people walking up and down there disturbed mass in the chapel. The great hall where the Mercers met and kept their muniments was over the chapel. This private enclave within the church of St. Thomas occupied the S.W. corner of the building, and had perhaps been established within a S. aisle. This seems clear from the proposal, initiated in 1510, to enlarge the company's chapel and the rooms above, for this was to be done by acquiring the two tenements (105/17) which lay on the W. side of the hall. (fn. 45)
The hospital and the mercers' company, 1510 to c.1560
The new hall and chapel of the Mercers (Figs. 6-9)
The financial insecurity of the hospital was perhaps one reason why the Mercers were allowed, or even encouraged, to become so firmly established in the church. This, and the increasing prominence of the Mercers and other great companies in the life of the city formed the background to the change in the relationship between the company and the hospital which took place during the first half of the 16th century. The company now required a more splendid setting for its meetings and in September 1510, since it had little room for keeping its banquet or supper, sought the assistance of Dean Colet of St. Paul's in the matter of acquiring from the hospital the two tenements lying to the W. of the company hall. The dean, himself a freeman of the company since 1508, was already under an obligation to the Mercers since earlier that year negotiations had begun over the foundation of St. Paul's school, of which Colet proposed that the company should be patron. The time was also ripe for negotiations with the hospital, for in that summer its master had been evicted and Dr. John Young had been admitted as a vigorous and reforming successor. (fn. 46) Colet probably played a part in these changes. Negotiations over the two tenements continued until the summer of 1512 and it was proposed that the company should raise the money for the purchase and the rebuilding by means of an assessment on the members. Dr. Young was instrumental in obtaining £500 towards these costs from Edmund Reede of Norwich, in the form of a bill of exchange from a Genoese merchant. In return the Mercers in 1512 made a gift of £100 in order to relieve the debts of the hospital and loans of £40 in 1513 and £100 in the next year. It was probably in order to regularize the position of the Mercers' chaplains and as a bargaining counter in these negotiations that in July 1511 the master of the hospital raised the matter of the chaplains' attendance in the choir of the church, which was not settled until 1513. (fn. 47)
While this business was in progress the Mercers were actively considering a proposal to establish their hall on a property in St. Stephen Coleman Street parish, which Lady Bradbury proposed to bequeath to them, and in 1511 and 1512 their annual banquets were held at Lady Bradbury's house. (fn. 48) The decision to rebuild next to St. Thomas's church, however, had been taken by 6 July 1512, the date of an indenture of bargain and sale from the hospital to the company concerning a piece of ground on the S. side and at the W. end of the church of St. Thomas. This ground with its houses, cellars, and solars comprised the whole of 17 and a part of 16 which lay to the rear (Fig. 8). It measured 43 ft. (13.11 m.) along Cheapside, 47 ft. 4 in. (14.43 m.) from S. to N. at the W. end, 12 ft. 11 in. (3.94 m.) E./W. at the N. end measuring from the W. wall of the church of St. Thomas, and 15 ft. 9 in. (4.8 m.) E./W. in the middle measuring from the same wall. The grantors reserved to themselves an entry along the full length of the W. side of the ground being 4 ft. (1.22 m.) wide and 9 ft. 2 in. (2.79 m.) high. In return the grantees were within 8 days of receiving a fee simple estate in the ground to transfer to the grantors lands and tenements of their own and of equal value. The Mercers' purpose in acquiring the ground was said to be to enlarge the church of St. Thomas over part of it, the residue to be returned to the hospital; if the company decided to retain the whole and build on the W. part of it, however, they were not to obstruct any lights belonging to the hospital. (fn. 49) At this stage it would appear to have been the company's intention to extend their part of the church of St. Thomas as far as the Cheapside frontage to the S. and possibly also further N. into the body of the church. The ground was subject to two leases (see 17) and by December 1512 the company had obtained one of them, concerning the house next to the door of the church, in return for a payment of £3. 6s. 8d. to the hospital. (fn. 50)
Early in 1513 the master of the hospital, who was now known to be about to be made a suffragan bishop, put forward a scheme for the reform of the hospital under which the Mercers' Company was to be its patron. A papal bull was obtained and by a deed of July 1514 the master and brothers of the hospital accepted the Mercers in this role. The company's formal responsibility was that within two months of a vacancy in the mastership it would present two or three suitable candidates in priestly orders, either secular or religious, from whom the brothers could choose a new master. A year later further improvements in the regular life of the hospital and its physical setting were being put into effect (see above). The Mercers agreed to contribute a further £100 towards the cost of building at the hospital and in return were to have freedom to occupy the enlarged chapel and hall which they proposed to build, and were to have the burying places within the chapel. (fn. 51) This seems to mean that burials had already been made in the Mercers' chapel and that the company was to have the burial rights there in the future. The result was a significant gain by the company which now obtained absolute possession of its hall and chapel. In November 1515 the hospital was assured of property in exchange according to the agreement of 1512 by means of a testament of Richard Feldyng, citizen and mercer, who bequeathed to the hospital 105/11 (q.v.), which he apparently held on behalf of the Mercers' Company. The Mercers' acquisition was formalized in May 1516 by means of a grant with livery of seisin made by the hospital to Feldyng, who was evidently to bequeath the property to the company. This Feldyng did by a will dated June 1516 concerning the land called 'mercers chapell' and the hall called 'mercers hall' with houses, cellars, and solars. At its W. end the property was identical with that described in the bargain and sale of 1512, but towards the E. it extended as far as 19 (cf. Fig. 8). The frontage length was 76 ft. 4 in. (23.27 m.) and at its E. end the property measured 32 ft. 2 in. (9.8 m.) between Cheapside and the church of St. Thomas. (fn. 52) The existing hall of the Mercers would thus appear to have extended at first-floor level over the entry to the church of St. Thomas, which was probably itself situated at the E. end of the Mercers' chapel. Plans for the new building were already well advanced, for in June there was a disagreement with the masons and other workmen over the cost, and rates for contributions by members of the company were established. Overseers for the new work were appointed in February 1517. (fn. 53)
By November 1517 more ambitious plans for rebuilding had been adopted with the result that the company decided also to acquire 16 from the hospital for a term of 199 years at a certain quit-rent. Perhaps in response to this, the master of the hospital in the following February raised certain queries (dyvers queyres') concerning the company's patronage, which were referred by the company to Thomas More for his advice. The outcome was a new grant from the hospital to Richard Feldyng dated 1 May 1518 concerning the property conveyed in 1516 together with 16. The frontage along Cheapside now measured 98 ft. 8 in. (30.07 m.) and the distance from the W. end of the church to Cheapside was given as 28 ft. 6 in. (8.69 m.). Detailed dimensions were given for the distances between the W. end of the church and parts of the precinct to the N. and various tenements in Ironmonger Lane. The distance from Cheapside to 95/13 on the N. was given as 105 ft. 1/2 in. (32.02 m.). This was an error corrected in 1535, when a still more detailed survey of the Mercers' property here was undertaken. From these surveys it is possible to reconstruct the exact bounds of 16 and some details of the arrangement of the W. end of the church of St. Thomas and of the hospital precinct to the N. (fn. 54)
By his will, dated 12 May 1518, Feldyng left this property to the Mercers' Company for ever, charged with a quit-rent of £6. 13s. 4d. In June the company agreed to pay the rent to the hospital so long as Feldyng lived and had already paid £50 for the rent due up to Christmas 1525. In July 1518 the hospital agreed to accept liability for the rent of £10 due to the Grocers' Company for the garden in Old Jewry and which was distrainable on 16. After the dissolution of the hospital in 1538 the Mercers continued to pay the £6. 13s. 4d. rent to the Crown until 1550, when this and other quit-rents due from city companies were granted to Augustine Hynde, Richard Turke and William Blackwell. (fn. 55)
Demolition of the buildings on the site of the hall and chapel began in 1516-17. There may have been some change of plan during the latter part of 1517, but it probably concerned only the W. end of the proposed new structure, on the site of 16. In August 1518 the new buildings were not yet half finished and were proving more expensive than anticipated. A new imposition was made on the members of the company and a renewed attempt was made to exact the £13. 6s. 8d. owing by alderman Richard Bafford, who had recently lost money overseas. There were also problems with the masons' work caused by the inaccurate moulds used for cutting the stone. In 1519 the company obtained a royal licence to provide what was necessary for completing the work, and to retain William Thorne, mason, together with other masons, bricklayers, and building workers, but in the following year the financial difficulties were still acute. Edmund Reede's widow was prosecuting a claim over the sum due on her husband's bill of exchange and it was thought that the members of the company would not agree to a further assessment. Eventually the Mercers agreed that the £815 still required should be raised as a loan, which two years later, in 1522, was to be repaid by selling the company's plate. In May 1521 an agreement was made with a carpenter concerning a louver in the hall, which was to be made by the following Easter at a cost of £16. The new building seems to have been essentially complete by the summer of 1522, although it was not ready for the festivity to be held there in June, when for the last time the annual banquet was staged at Lady Bradbury's house. A final stage in the completion of the chapel was being contemplated in February 1524, when John Alleyn agreed to bear the cost of a carved stone altar piece designed and to be undertaken by Walter Vandale of Antwerp. (fn. 56) It is uncertain whether or not the early 16th-century statue of Christ which still survives at Mercers' Hall had any connection with Vandale's work. On balance, a connection would seem unlikely, since the surviving carving seems to be French rather than Netherlandish in character and probably formed part of an entombment group. Such a group would be suitable for an Easter Sepulchre rather than an altar piece, and it may be that the statue was once associated with the Sepulchre on the N. side of the high altar in the main church of St. Thomas of Acre rather than with Mercers' Chapel. (fn. 57) The new chapel was consecrated between 16 October and 1 November 1524. (fn. 58)
A later clerk of the Mercers' Company, who held office between 1555 and 1566, gave the cost of the rebuilding over the period 1517-22 as £2735. 16s. 1d., a sum which he appears to have totalled from records which no longer survive. Of this total £350. 18s. was spent on purchasing stone, £135. 9s. on boards, timber, and wainscot, £87. 8s. 6d. on brick, £950. 12s. 1d. on masons' work, £224. 9s. 8d. on carpenters' work, and £233. 1s. 10 1/2d. on labourers' work. (fn. 59) One of the principal benefactors of the work was Sir John Alleyn, who was later said to have given £300, in return for which he and his wife were to be buried in the chapel and the company was to pay £7. 16s. 8d. yearly for a chantry priest and an obit in the church of St. Thomas. (fn. 60) If correct, the figure of some £2,700 for the total cost of rebuilding implies that the work undertaken during these eight years was of substantial and elaborate character, and may be compared with the £13,700 spent over fifteen years on rebuilding the company's hall and chapel after the Great Fire of 1666. Between the early 16th and the late 17th century the wages of London building craftsmen went up by about 3.75 times, so that the rebuilding of 1516-24 would have cost about £10,250 on a late 17th century scale of values. In ground area and volume the post-Fire structure was substantially larger than the 16th-century hall and chapel, which would thus appear to have been an architecturally ambitious building incorporating a good deal of high quality craftsmanship.
The outcome of this great expenditure was the 'fair and beautifull chapell, arched over with stone, and thereupon Mercers hall, a most curious peece of worke', as it was described by Stow, (fn. 61) which survived until 1666. The mid 16th-century plan-view of London shows that this building presented a handsome, battlemented facade to Cheapside. This facade was presumably built of stone and appears to have incorporated a decorative feature or niche in the upper storey. (fn. 62) Below this feature, which may once have included a statue, the plan-view shows another feature, probably the entry to the church of St. Thomas which seems to have been incorporated in the new building. A draft agreement between the hospital and the company dated 16 October 1524 mentions the porch of Mercers' Chapel, where the Mercers were to have right of burial as well as in the chapel itself, and this porch seems to have been identical with the porch and entry coming into the church of St. Thomas which, according to the same agreement, the hospital was to keep clean. (fn. 63) Over the door of St. Thomas's church, by the street, was a statue of St. Thomas, removed in 1538 when the hospital was dissolved and subsequently replaced by a maiden's head. (fn. 64) The plan-view indicates that the entry was sited in the centre of the facade of the new building. If this was so the entry to St. Thomas's church was repositioned when Mercers' Hall was rebuilt, for before then it lay on the E. side of 17 and apparently at the E. end of the Mercers' chapel. The new Mercers' Chapel occupied the ground floor on the E. side of the entry and below its E. end was a cellar which, according to the agreement of 1524, the hospital was to have along with the cellar below 19. This cellar at the E. end of the chapel had probably been below the earlier entry to the church. These cellars belonging to the hospital were probably in danger from damp in 1526 when the master of the hospital complained of the condition of the lead on the S. side of the Mercers' new building and of the threat to the 'vawte of the Churche'. The new building appears to have been cellared along the entire length of the Cheapside frontage (cf. 16). The room known as the lower parlour was probably on the ground floor immediately W. of the rear entry. Further W., but still within the new building, was a shop where a new door and windows of wainscot were made in 1526-7. From 1529 this shop was let with the new house which by then had been built to the rear of the hall (see 16). (fn. 65) The hall itself was directly over the chapel and its length, as indicated by the length of the battlements over it rebuilt in 1632-3, was probably 54 ft. (16.46 m.). The remainder of the upper floor was largely occupied by the parlour and kitchen, both of which were said to be over the shop. The kitchen was probably directly over the rear part of the shop. Later evidence indicates that there were other rooms above the parlour, and that the hall itself rose through two storeys.
Not all the new building was used for social and religious purposes. Since the mid-15th century or before the Mercers' Company had appointed the official weigher of silk in the city and had presented him to the city chamberlain. The balance beam and weights pertaining to the office were kept at the company's hall, at least on the occasion when each new weigher was appointed. (fn. 66) Following the rebuilding of the hall there was some confusion over the control of the beam and weights, and in 1525 it was agreed that they should be kept in the 'lowe parlour' and that whoever held the office of weigher should exercise it there and nowhere else, paying £4 rent for the room. The lower parlour now came to be known as the 'waiehouse of sylke under our hall'. The £4 rent was in arrears in 1526, when John Eston occupied the room. (fn. 67) In 1535 £3 of the rent was allowed to Thomas Fuller the elder, and in the following year there seems to have been a move to take the beam away from the Mercers' Hall. William Smythe, mercer, held the weighhouse in 1542, when the company determined not to reduce the rent from £4. In 1554 the statue of St. Thomas which had been removed from above the porch was being kept there. (fn. 68)
The acquisition of the hospital of St. Thomas by the Mercers' Company
On 20 October 1538 the hospital was surrendered to the Crown and in the following December the Mercers' Company agreed to make a suit to the king for the church, the 'mansion place thereof' (presumably the master's lodging), and the small tenements adjacent. In March 1540 the company referred the matter to the mayor and aldermen, and in August 1541 ordered a view to be made of the properties it was proposed to purchase. By royal letters patent of 21 April 1542 the company acquired the church, the precinct of the hospital, the properties next to the hospital, three messuages in the parishes of St. Stephen Walbrook and St. Stephen Coleman Street which had formerly belonged to the hospital, and the church and rectory of St. Mary Colechurch. The Crown reserved a rent of £7. 8s. 10d. and the Mercers were to establish three priests to celebrate in their church for the souls of the king and his progeny, to establish a grammar school with a master to teach 25 pupils, to find a 'substantial and learned' man to give a sermon every Sunday in Lent, and to pay £8 a year for a chaplain and priest celebrating in the church of St. Mary Colechurch. In addition, the Mercers made a payment of £969. 17s. 6d. to the king, a sum which was raised by means of a loan from members of the company, additional quarterage payments to be levied over the next fifteen years or so, and £274. 15s. 7d. taken (presumably as a loan) out of the St. Paul's School treasure chest. (fn. 69) It was subsequently agreed that the loans were to be repaid by midsummer 1543, and that the additional quarterage payments were also to cease then. Sir Richard Gresham played an important role in assisting the company to acquire the hospital, both in the negotiations and by providing money. (fn. 70)
The Mercers could not immediately obtain control of the site. In November 1539 the Crown had granted at farm the house and site of the hospital with the cemetery, houses, curtilages, and buildings within the precinct (but not including the church) to Thomas Mildmay, gentleman and auditor of the Court of Augmentation, for a term of 21 years at £3. 6s. 8d. rent. In the following February the reversion of this property and the rent due under the lease were granted to William Gonson, citizen and grocer. In August 1541 the Mercers' Company directed Sir Richard Gresham and Sir John Gresham to negotiate with Gonson concerning his interest in the 'great mansion place' next to the church. This was probably a residence which Gonson had contrived within the lodging of the former master of the hospital. By a series of transactions in May 1542, immediately after the Mercers' Company had acquired the precinct and the church by letters patent, the interests of these parties were eliminated. Having obtained a royal licence, Gonson bargained and sold the reversion to Sir Ralph Warren, citizen and alderman, who was to render 6s. 8d. a year to the king as tithe. Mildmay sold his term of years in the property to Warren, to whom Gonson and his wife then quitclaimed. Warren granted this interest to the company for a term of 48 years from Michaelmas 1542 at a peppercorn rent, and by a testament drawn up in 1543 bequeathed it to the company in perpetuity. He entered into a bond in £200 not to alter the testament and died in 1553. (fn. 71)
Gonson still occupied the former precinct of the hospital, for he paid Warren £3. 10s. rent for the half year to Michaelmas 1542. Anthony Marler, citizen and haberdasher, already had a lease of the precinct, presumably from Gonson or Warren, and probably was living there in August when the company agreed to pay him 20 marks or £10 for the good will of it so that they could have clear possession from Michaelmas. The Mercers also agreed to obtain for Marler a house within the precinct of Grey Friars, but were not immediately successful in this for on 26 September they granted Marler a lease of the precinct for a term of 6 years from the following Michaelmas at £7 rent. The subject of this lease was the 'mancioun or greate place late called Thomas of Acon otherwyse Beckett house' with all its chambers, solars, cellars, yards, gardens, courts, and other houses in which the last master of the hospital had dwelled, being in the parish of St. Mary Colechurch 'or any other parishe therunto adioynynge'. The company was to maintain the premises and reserved for its own use the S. part of the precinct, comprising the great and little cloisters, the little churchyard, the sexton's chamber with two rooms next to it and two above, the auditor's chamber, the vestry, treasure house and the little yard next to it, the chapter house and library, a gallery on the E. side of the cloister, and the leads along the N. side of the church. (fn. 72) Sir Roland Hill, alderman and warden of the company in 1542, desired to be tenant of the great mansion place, and in March 1544 offered for it £10 p.a. rent with the tenant to undertake repairs. He obtained a lease for 50 years paying £7 rent for the first 4 1/2 years and £10 rent thereafter. He also took the two messuages on the N., side of the great gate in Old Jewry for £3. 18s. 4d. rent and was to compound with Marler and the tenants of the two messuages at his own cost. The mansion was now described as a capital messuage with the cloister adjoining, and it seems that Hill became tenant of the whole of the precinct, including the school house in the cloister (see below) but excepting two chambers where the mass priest and the sexton dwelled and the two chapels known as the vestry and Sandel's chapel, which were reserved for the use of the company. Hill and his family were to have free access from the cloister into the church by one of the doors then being made there, and the company was to have access to the leads at the E. end of the church by the little door on the N. side of the Lady Chapel. Hill was not to let the capital messuage to anyone other than a member of the company. In the month after the grant of the lease Hill was seeking an easement out of the priest's chamber and the two nether rooms below. (fn. 73)
Following the dissolution of the chantries in 1547, the company paid the annual sums with which it had been charged to the Crown. This was a considerable drain on its income from property, and in March 1550 Roland Hill, then Lord Mayor, proposed that the company should purchase the rent. It was agreed that lands be sold to enable this to be done, among them the capital messuage, now held by Thomas Leigh, mercer, who was presumably Hill's undertenant. (fn. 74) In April 1547 the company sold to Hill and Leigh the great messuage with its churchyard and cloister, and in addition sold for £30 the freehold of the sexton's chamber and the priest's chamber, which were situated over the N. part of the church, and of the two chapels on the N. side of the Lady Chapel. Robert Bynlose, the sexton, and Thomas Hert, the Mercers' chaplain, were to be able to occupy their rooms for the remainder of their lives. (fn. 75) Any inhabitants of the messuage who were merchants and free of the company were at all reasonable time to have access to the church from the garden or cloister. In May 1550 it was agreed that Leigh should have the chapel on the N. side of the church through which he was accustomed to pass daily, on condition that he closed up the chapel and made a door at a convenient place in the church wall. In June Leigh was to have the two chapels on the N. side of the church in return for a further payment of £10. These were presumably in addition to the two chapels which Leigh had acquired in April. In January 1551 the company quitclaimed to Hill and Leigh in the whole property, which was now occupied by Leigh. (fn. 76) The separation between the Mercers' property and the great private house to the N. was now complete, although one or two doors allowed communication between the church and what had once been its precinct. As a result of the transfer of the five chapels, the Mercers' church perhaps now extended no further N. than the main outside wall of the structure. The history of the great house to the N. of the church is continued as 142/2 (see Appendix 2).
It is not known how the church itself was used between October 1538 and April 1542 while it was in the possession of the Crown, but on Michaelmas eve in the latter year the Mercers' Company opened its doors and mass began to be celebrated again daily. Before the opening of the church some internal alterations had been undertaken. In May and August 1542 two brazen chapels, with an altar of wainscot, and two chapels of wood, all standing next to the door of the choir were sold. In September it was agreed that the stonework with the carving and the altars of stone should remain, that the ground where the brazen chapels had been should be paved and a place made for the priest to stand, and that the joined work 'colossed about' the altars at the choir door should be removed, leaving the altars themselves intact. (fn. 77) Other changes followed. In 1544 two pairs of organs and the loft in the rood chapel of the church were ordered to be sold, and in 1550-1, following Ridley's accession to the see of London and the enforcement of doctrinal changes, the altars were removed, altar cloths and vestments were sold, and the church was whitewashed throughout. Under Queen Mary, in September 1553, it was decided to set up the high altar with its steps again, and to make provision for priests as before. In preparation for the arrival of King Philip and Queen Mary in London in October 1554 the church was publicly reassociated with the cult of St. Thomas by re-erecting his statue over the Cheapside door. Immediately the new statue suffered damage from passers by, but with the accession of Elizabeth in November 1558 it came to be more seriously at risk and in January 1559 was found to have been pulled down into the street. Once more the statue of St. Thomas was replaced by a maiden's head, on this occasion made of stucco, which continued to decorate the Mercers' doorway until 1666. In 1560 the church furnishings were yet again adopted to suit the doctrinal requirements of a new regime. (fn. 78)
Throughout this period the chapel under the hall appears not to have been formally converted for any other use. In 1549-50 a proposal was made to convert the chapel into shops. Concern was expressed that the building be not disfigured, and, although a plan was drawn up for carrying out the necessary alterations, the scheme was not put into effect. In 1557 it was agreed that the chapel 'beneath under our hall' be enclosed with boards at the company's cost in order to accommodate the grammar school. This seems to be an unambiguous reference to the chapel underneath the hall rather than to the former church of St. Thomas, but the proposed conversion of the chapel to a school room was not carried out (cf. below). (fn. 79)
Some minor changes in the Mercers' domestic accommodation were also undertaken after they enlarged their site. In 1547-8 a new buttery was to be made over the 'yelle' (probably the S. aisle) of the church at a cost of £37. 11s. 10 1/2d. The old buttery had occupied a little house within the parlour and presumably lay to the W. of the hall. In September 1558 the old buttery was to be converted by a joiner to a handsome library. It is not certain that this work was carried out, for in 1566 this room appears to have been described as the 'inward parlour' where new boxes and 'drawing tilles' were to be made to store the company's evidences and writings. In 1573 a proposal to make a place in the house over the lower parlour (then occupied by the Merchant Adventurers) in which to keep the evidences was referred to another occasion. (fn. 80) The building of a library in which to keep the records does not seem finally to have been accomplished until 1581-2 (see below).
Mercers' school, 1542-1666
Under the terms of their acquisition of the hospital, the Mercers were obliged to maintain a grammar school for 25 pupils, and in so doing continued the tradition of their predecessor on the site. Thomas Freman, the company's schoolmaster, is mentioned in a will of April 1543, and in 1544, when Sir Roland Hill took a lease of the great house on the site of the precinct, a schoolmaster kept a school for 40 pupils within the cloister; subsequent schoolmasters were to be allowed to keep the school in the same school house, elsewhere within the property at Hill's expense, or within another house belonging to the Mercers close to the former church of St. Thomas. Hill and his undertenant, Thomas Leigh, appear to have moved the school out of the cloister and at their own expense established it within the great house in a room on the N. side of the choir or chancel of the Mercers' church. Under the agreement by which they purchased the great house in 1550 Hill and Leigh were to permit the school to continue there until another room could be found for it at the expense of them or their successors. (fn. 81)
In 1557 there was a proposal to convert the chapel underneath the Mercers' hall for use as the grammar school (see above), but it was not put into effect. The school house thus remained at ground-floor level on the N. side of the chancel of the former church of St. Thomas and was evidently entered from the church itself. It was described as the 'school-house at mercers' chapel' and as the 'school-house beneath the chapel' in 1566-7 and 1573- 4, respectively, when repairs were carried out. In 1606-7, when the company laid down detailed regulations for the conduct of the grammar school in the church, the schoolmaster was allowed to take an additional 35 pupils, so long as he employed an usher at his own expense. The master was to be free to teach the additional pupils in the N. aisle of the church by the entry to the school so long as the scholars neither damaged the monuments and other furnishings there nor caused disturbances in the nave and porch. The school-house was in the same position in the 1650s, when the schoolmaster received annual payments of £20 for teaching, £15 in lieu of a house, and £10 towards the cost of an usher. Records of burials within the church at about this time establish that the door to the school led off the N. aisle within the choir. Shortly after the Great Fire the site of the schoolroom, measuring 14 ft. 1 in. (4.29 m.) N.-S. and 23 ft. 3 in. (7.09 m.) E.-W., was among the pieces of ground exchanged between the Mercers' Company and Sir John Frederick, and thus came to be part of Frederick's house (142/2). (fn. 82)
Mercers' hall and chapel, c. 1560-1666
The church or chapel
Throughout the remainder of the 16th century the former church of St. Thomas appears to have been described indifferently as the Mercers' church or chapel. Thus in casual references, up to c. 1575 at least, it is not always possible to tell whether the former conventual church or the chapel built by the company in 1517-24 is intended (cf. above). There are a number of confusing records, such as the expenditure of £3. 10s. 4d. on repairs of 'our great church and chapel beneath' in 1578- 9, (fn. 83) when, since the company was probably no longer responsible for maintaining the chapel, the reference was perhaps to the church alone. Eventually, however, the church came consistently to be known as the Mercers' Chapel, in recognition of its non-parochial status.
There was frequent expenditure on repairing the glass in the church and the lead roofs there. In 1554-5 the leads on the S. side of the church next to 19 were recast. In 1550 the pillars were to be mended and in 1566-7 two ruinous arches or pillars on the N. side of the choir were raised and the leads there repaired at a cost of £36. 16s. 11d. Work in 1575-6 included setting up partitions on either side of the choir and mending the choir doors, possibly a major rearrangement of the space inside the church. These arrangements probably persisted until 1666, and mid 17th-century records of burials in the church show that at that time the N. and S. aisles of the choir were separated by screens from the centre aisle, and that the choir as a whole was screened off from the body of the church. The choir was especially reserved for the livery and chief men of the company, who according to the account of the election service and supper in 1564 occupied the stalls in the choir. By the 1580s more substantial repairs to the church appear to have become necessary. In 1584 repairs to the stonework of the battlements were discussed and probably undertaken. In 1587 the stonework of the windows on the N. and E. sides was in need of attention. In 1590 more work was required on the N. side: a carpenter and a plumber were to repair the roof, and a mason was to take down the third window, repair the others, and made a corbel table over them using Headington stone. These repairs were finished in the following year. The window, said to be perhaps of 'Jacobean' date, which in 1926-8 was observed in a blocked form in the then surviving N. wall of the church may have been one result of these works. A vault in the chapel was repaired in 1589-90. The church had been decorated with maidens' heads in 1560, and in 1622-3 a glasier set up a maiden's head in the W. window. There were maidens' heads in the N. aisle too, beneath one of which the tomb of Richard Fishbourne (d. 1625) was erected c. 1633. The N. part of the floor of the chapel was raised and levelled in 1623 and two years later the chapel battlements were again a cause for concern. A scheme of plastering was under way in 1629. The three new windows made in the chapel in 1631-2 were probably in the S. side towards the E. end, for at the same time the gutters between the chapel, the Mitre tavern (105/19), and St. Mary Colechurch were remade; the total cost of this work was £86. 18s. 1d. A rebuilding of the houses in Old Jewry (cf. 105/21) in or shortly before 1640 caused the E. window of the chapel to be darkened and the offending work was ordered to be removed. Considerable work in the chapel was probably carried out in 1642, when the chapel, hall, and parlour were ordered to be repaired and beautified and more than £60 were spent. Political and religious considerations were probably to the fore on this occasion, when 'offensive pictures' were to be taken away or defaced. This work, or a later programme of repairs, may have involved the reconstruction of one of the columns in the arcade dividing the N. aisle from the nave, for in 1655-6 burials were made near the 'new pillar' on the N. side of the 'middle aisle'. At about the same time the company's burial register also mentions the W. door of the church which led to the street (presumably Ironmonger Lane) and a storehouse, presumably for vestments and other chapel equipment, which lay on the S. side of the choir. (fn. 84)
Mercers' Chapel served as a focus of public attention as well as a centre for private worship. In its formal and civic role the chapel was less prominent than the church of St. Thomas had been, although informally, as the place where members of the company and their distinguished associates and patrons worshipped together, the building continued to house an important and influential congregation. Some of the traditional functions of the hospital church outlasted its dissolution. The tenth earl of Ormond, who died in 1546, wished to be buried there, and the eleventh earl in 1576 specified the church of 'St. Thomas of Dacres' as one of the possible places for his burial. The Ormond family's association with the church appears not to have persisted, but throughout the period up to the Great Fire both members and non-members of the Mercers' Company, and in particular those from neighbouring parishes, continued to be buried there. In the 17th century most parts of the church were used for burial, but the most prestigious area for interment seems to have been in the N. part of the body of the church which, as we have seen, had been a focus of attention before the Reformation. The landmarks in the part of the church did not now evoke the life and martyrdom of St. Thomas, but included the tombs of Sir John Alleyn, moved from the old Mercers' Chapel to a site on the N. side of the centre aisle of the larger church in or soon after 1575; the tomb of Richard Fishbourne (d. 1625, cf. above) towards the W. end of the N. aisle, the effigy from which may still be seen in the Ambulatory at Mercers' Hall; and the tomb of Sir Thomas Leigh, which was in the N. aisle, probably towards the E. end near the choir screen. There were several family groupings among the burials, of which one of the most notable was that of the relatives of Peter Birkenhead, himself buried in August 1666, in the immediate neighbourhood of Alleyn's tomb. Before the Reformation such men had been commemorated in obits and chantries; now they were remembered by the sermons which they endowed. Both Fishbourne and Birkenhead endowed sermons at Mercers' Chapel, and the John Banckes, as a result of whose gift in 1619 another series of sermons was established, may also have been buried there. (fn. 85)
The practice of endowing sermons in the church was another legacy of the pre-Reformation period. In 1515 John Milbourne, alderman and draper, and his wife made a gift to St. Catherine's Hall, Cambridge, on condition that one of the fellows should preach an annual sermon in the church of St. Thomas of Acre. After the dissolution of the hospital it was agreed between Milbourne's widow and the college that the sermon should be delivered on Good Friday in Mercers' Chapel. (fn. 86) In addition the hospital of St. Thomas maintained sermons in the church out of its ordinary revenue, and in the year 1532-3 spent £3. 10s. on this. For this reason under the terms of the royal letters patent by which they acquired the church in 1542 the Mercers were obliged to pay for a series of sermons on Sundays during Lent. By 1546 the appointment of the Lenten preachers had been delegated to the wardens. In the years before 1640 the company consistently sponsored the election of Puritans to its livings and lectureships, and the Lent sermons, which in 1637 were said to be attracting congregations from other churches, were probably notable Puritan occasions. The chapel's role as a focus of Puritanism became even more important after the parliamentary victory. Thus in 1645 members of the House of Commons were allowed to use the hall and chapel for thanksgiving after the battle of Naseby, and in 1648-9 the Lord Mayor and aldermen regularly attended sermons there. (fn. 87)
As a non-parochial church associated with an influential livery company whose members had extensive interests in overseas trade, Mercers' Chapel came to be an important centre for worship and preaching among foreign Protestants living in London. Here, too, there was probably a strong element of continuity from before the Reformation, for the most prominent of these groups were the Italians, and, as we have seen, the merchants of Lucca had been well established in the church of St. Thomas of Acre during the 15th century. In 1551 the company agreed to allow an Italian who had preached in the chapel during Lent without permission to continue with his sermons. Early in Elizabeth's reign the Italians were closely associated with the Spanish Protestant congregation, which from 1560 met in the redundant church of St. Mary Axe. The Spanish preacher fled in 1563 and the Spaniards were absorbed by the French congregation. In 1566, at the bishop of London's request, an Italian was allowed to preach in Mercers' Chapel in his own tongue, as in the time of Edward VI, and the church became the centre of the Italian Protestant community. Two years later Venetians, Dutch, and Spaniards regularly attended the Italian church in Mercers' Chapel, where the preacher was the learned Spaniard, Antonio de Corro, formerly a Protestant minister in Poitou. De Corro ceased his ministry in 1569, and in 1573 another minister of the Italian church is named. The fortunes and organization of the alien Protestant communities were very fluid and by the early 17th century Italian worship at Mercers' Chapel appears to have lapsed. It was re-established in 1609 by Ascanio Spinola, a former monk from Brussels, who reverted to Roman Catholicism and fled in 1616-17. Such was the precarious state of the Italian Protestants at this time that in 1612 their church register and other papers were in the custody of the Dutch church, and were soon handed over to the French. Spinola was succeeded by the controversial and charismatic archbishop of Spalato, who preached several times in Italian at Mercers' Chapel between 1617 and 1622 before reverting to his former faith and returning to Italy. During the 1630s and 1640s an Italian congregation regularly worshipped in the chapel and heard sermons in its own tongue. The Italians chose their own preachers, who received an allowance out of the company's funds, and were still using the chapel in 1656. Italian sermons also proved an attraction to cultivated Englishmen. Thus in 1648 John Evelyn attended the chapel to hear the Italian sermon given by his friend Dr. William Middleton. Little is known of the Spanish Protestants at this period, although some of them may still have attended the Italian services, as is suggested by the grant of permission to a Spaniard to preach in the chapel in 1625. (fn. 88)
The Hall and other accommodation (Figs. 6, 7, and 9)
The hall erected in 1517-24 continued to be used for company assemblies and banquets until it was destroyed by the Great Fire. Early in Elizabeth's reign it became the setting for meetings and discussions between men of the highest influence in both the city and the kingdom. (fn. 89) By 1573 the pressure on space was such that the company decided to attempt to enlarge its accommodation by seeking a lease of the great house to the N. of the church (142/2). By 1575, however, a plan had been adopted to enlarge the hall by taking in the shop on the ground floor at the W. end, together with part of the house behind which was let with it (see 105/16). A division of this property was agreed between the company and its tenant in 1580, when the Mercers acquired the following additional accommodation (cf. 16 and Figs. 6 and 7): two cellars next to the street and two cellars below the N. end of the house; the yard of the house, including access from Ironmonger Lane, the buildings at the N. end of the yard, and probably also the little kitchen with rooms above it and a place for a forge on the E. side of the yard next to the church; the great chamber on the first floor of the house next to the company's pastry; and the chamber over the great chamber next to the company's armoury. (fn. 90) These changes reduced the number of rooms in the house to an unacceptable degree, and from 1608, or possibly from 1590, the company allowed the cellars below the shop and the house and the two chambers on the first and second storeys to be occupied by its tenant (see 16). From about 1619 onwards the buildings at the N. end of the yard were used for the clerk's residence (see 16).
A number of structural changes were made following this enlargement of the hall. In 1580-1 a masonry vault was set up at the foot of 'the stairs going into the yard'. These stairs probably led directly from the yard to the Mercers' parlour and other rooms on the first floor. In 1581-2 a carpenter made a 'library or counting house' within the parlour where the company's books could be kept, and a lantern was made for the hall door, perhaps replacing the lantern over the church door by the street which had been made in 1566. In 1589-90 £33. 3s. 1d. were spent on moving the armoury and repairing the 'back rooms below' formerly occupied by the tenant of 16. It had recently been agreed that these back rooms and the gate leading to them should be counted as part of St. Martin Pomary parish. Stairs to the cellar below the lower parlour were made in 1603-4. (fn. 91) The accommodation within the enlarged hall seems not to have been altered significantly before the Great Fire. An inventory of linen and furnishings compiled in 1618-19 lists the following rooms: the kitchen, the press chamber (presumably where the records were kept), the buttery adjoining the hall (presumably that over the aisle of the church), the little chamber adjoining, the armoury adjoining, the long chamber, the hall, the lower parlour in the yard (perhaps a parlour on the ground floor of the main building accessible only from the rear), the kitchen adjoining, the yard itself, the entry, and the chapel storehouse. The inventory also lists the company's muniments, which were kept in the parlour and the library. An important room, regularly mentioned from the mid 16th century onwards, was the ladies' chamber, where the wives of the livery sat down to eat at company banquets and no doubt assembled on other occasions. In 1655, when the Virgin from the pageant of the 'Rich Bachelors and the Virgin' was entertained there, the ladies' chamber was close to the press chamber. This also seems to have been the case in 1568 when it was proposed to allow the Merchant Adventurers to keep their records near the ladies' chamber (see below). (fn. 92)
In 1632-3 the battlements on the front elevation of the hall were rebuilt in Portland stone and the whole facade was polished and repaired, a programme of work which may substantially have altered the character of the early 16th-century building. The top 11 ft. 6 in. (3.51 m.) of stone for 54 ft. (16.46 m.) in length by the hall was replaced, as was the top 6 ft. 6 in. (1.98 m.) of stone for 46 ft. (14.03 m.) in length by the parlour. A 'frontispiece' of stone rising 5 ft. 6 in. (1.71 m.) in height above the battlements and at least 6 ft. (1.83 m.) wide was to be built and two 'dyalls' were to be made over the two 'canton windowes' in the hall and parlour, so as to rise 2 ft. 6 in. (762 mm.) above the battlements. The coping on the E. and W. walls of the building was also to be replaced. This work seems to have cost more than £300. (fn. 93) Further considerable work on the hall and chapel was undertaken in 1641-2 (see above). Some of this work was evidently occasioned by the need to remedy the cracks in the W. wall of the company's parlour, where the structure adjoined 95/18, and the displacement of the chimneypiece there. In the same year a joiner also worked on the turret in the hall, which was perhaps the direct descendant of the louvre erected in 1531-2. (fn. 94)
Minor changes and improvements continued to be made up to the Great Fire. In 1627 piped water was brought into the yard and back rooms, and the lease for this was renewed in 1650. A fire engine was purchased for use at the hall in 1634, and a new press was made for the company's records in 1644. Some structural repairs to the battlements at the E. end of the hall were necessary in 1649-50, when the roof of the hall itself had to be supported and its leads repaired. In 1665-6, on the eve of the Fire, £16. 17s. 4d. was spent on wainscoting with deal the chamber over the great parlour in the back rooms. This chamber was probably within the W. part of the structure next to Cheapside, which would thus appear to have contained 3 storeys above ground in the same manner as the house behind (16). The hall itself, which was upstairs in the E. part of the structure, probably rose through 2 storeys. Most of the other private rooms used by the company would have been on the first and second storeys to the W. of the hall. The whole establishment was rated at 11 hearths in 1662-3 and 1666. (fn. 95)
As well as housing the routine administration of the Mercers' affairs, the hall provided a setting for the ceremonial which both expressed and reinforced their corporate hierarchy and displayed their standing in the wider world. The way in which the hall was used on formal occasions is best illustrated by a group of records from around 1560, when the company's banquets were approaching a peak of magnificence. At the election supper of 1564 the 'estates', or guests of honour sitting at the high table, numbered 23 persons, including the Lord Mayor, the French ambassador, the earl of Pembroke, the earl of Warwick, Lord Robert Dudley, the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Hunsdon, and two gentlemen of the Privy Chamber, as well as prominent citizens from other livery companies. The significance of the occasion for demonstrating the company's influence is clear from the presence of the group of guests who were so close to the Queen. In the second volume of the company's 'Register of Writings' are several memoranda on the conduct of the Mercers' banquets from about this time. These include an undated set of 'Orders of Mercers' Supper kept at Mercers' Hall', illustrated by diagrams and showing the layout of tables with the numbers of persons sitting at each. They also show the numbers of courses ('measses of meat') served at each table. These numbers correspond with those in the next memorandum, entitled 'the order and course of the cook in the service of the meat from the dressers at the Mercers' Supper', which is dated 1557 and comprises a detailed list of the courses served at each table. There then follows an undated account of the election ceremony which followed the supper, similar in detail to the account of the ceremony in 1564 entered in the Acts of Court for that year. (fn. 96)
The social hierarchy was reflected in every detail of the feast. The livery and guests sat at 3 tables in the hall. At the E. end on a dias was the high table measuring 7 3/4 yards (7.09 m.) by 1 yd. 1 1/2 in. (953 mm.), with a board for the carver in front of it. Here sat the master with the 'estates and strange guests'. There was room for 22 persons, so that in 1564, when there were 23 guests, the table would have been crowded. Any free places at this table were to be occupied by members of the court of assistants, who otherwise sat at the more northerly of the two tables in the body of the hall. The remaining members of the livery sat at the S. table. Both the N. and the S. tables measured 8 yards (7.31 m.) long by 1 yard (914 mm.) wide, and each accommodated 26 persons. At each of the tables in the hall 5 courses of meat were served. The ladies and gentlewomen, presumably the wives of the livery and guests, ate in the great chamber over the parlour, which was probably on the second floor at the W. end of the hall (cf. Fig. 9). Here they sat at a table 9 1/4 yards (8.46 m.) long by 1 yard (914 mm.) wide, made up of two tables set lengthwise in the room, at which there was space for 32 persons and where 6 courses of meat were served. The 'gentlewomen waiters' sat in the 'wardrobe chamber', where there was a table for 16 persons, measuring 4 yards (3.66 m.) by 1 1/4 yards (1.14 m.), at which 2 courses of meat were served. In the order of 1557 this room was described as 'the chamber where the press stands' and the women who ate there were described as 'the maidens', perhaps the daughters or unmarried female dependants of members of the company. This room was probably on the second floor next to the ladies' chamber. Within the wardrobe chamber was the armoury, to which the meat remaining from the ladies' table was to be brought for safe keeping by 'sadde and dyscryte' women and maidens appointed by the wardens and their wives. The three wardens themselves supped privately at a table measuring 3 yards (2.74 m.) by 1 yard (914 mm.) in the parlour below, where they generally sat at the company's business throughout their year of office. They were served with one course of meat only.
The courses listed in the order of 1557 reflect the distinctions drawn between each table. Each course comprised up to 6 dishes listed according to the following standard order: pike (or pike and capon), venison pasty ('venison bake'), salmon (or capon), quails, sturgeon, and red deer. It is not clear, however, whether the dishes were served in this order or whether all were set on the table at once, although the former seems more likely. Every course served included pike, venison, quails, and sturgeon, to which other dishes were added according to the status of the table and the position of the course in the meal. The least honorific of these additions appears to have been that of a dish of capon alone, added to the fifth course at the N. table in the hall and to the first and fifth courses at the S. table. Capon was added to the dish of pike in the fifth course at the ladies' table. The next addition was a dish of salmon alone, added to the second and fourth courses at the high table and the N. table, to the second, fourth, and sixth courses at the the ladies' table, to the first and second courses at the maidens' table, and to the wardens' only course. The next most elaborate addition was that of a dish of salmon plus a capon added to the dish of pike; this was done in the first courses at the high table, the N. table, and the ladies' table. The most honorific addition of all was the dish of red deer added to the first, third, and fifth courses at the high table, and to the first and third courses at the N. table and the ladies' table. The numbers of quails served varied according to tables and courses: high table had 9 at the first course and 8 at each of the others; the ladies had 9 at the first course, 8 at the second and third, and 6 at the remainder; the other tables had 6 at each course.
This significance of these elaborate distinctions is clear. Within the meal the first, third, and fifth courses were the most important, but only received substantial emphasis at the tables of high standing. Status and degree had their clearest expression at the three tables in the hall, where the master, estates and guests at the high table enjoyed the greatest numbers of dishes, courses, and quails per head. The livery at the N. table were served with red deer, while those at the S. table were not, but otherwise these two tables had the same numbers of courses and quails per head. The three other tables outside the hall were not so directly involved in this expression of the social order, but the arrangement of courses did nevertheless reflect social and functional distinctions. The ladies' table was presumably of a composite social character, corresponding to that of all three tables in the hall, and for this reason was honoured with dishes of red deer. The ladies had the same numbers of courses per head as the N. and S. tables in the hall and only slightly fewer dishes per person. The supposed delicacy of their appetites is presumably reflected in the fact that they had a more generous allowance of quails than the N. and S. tables, and that it was only from their table that leftovers were to be expected. The gentlewomen waiters had the simplest meal with the smallest numbers of courses, dishes, and quails per head as befitted their humble status. The wardens' meal was just as simple, lacking red deer and capons, but this and their seclusion in their parlour reflected not their low standing but their withdrawal from administrative activity in the company after a year in office. Other aspects of the wardens' meal seem to have emphasized its convivial rather than its ceremonial character, and its function as a reward for a year of hard work. Thus, while they ate only one course of 5 dishes, this was a higher rate of consumption per head than that of the high table, and, at two per head, they were allowed more quails than the feasters at any other table.
At the end of the banquet, when hippocras and wafers were served, the 3 wardens once more took an active, and final, role in the company's affairs. They were readied in the parlour with garlands of gillyflowers on their heads and 3 cupbearers before them. Led by the clerk, bearing a diadem or garland on his arm and with his own cupbearer, they processed into the hall. Here they made obeisance to the 'states and worshipful', and the clerk laid the diadem on the high table. The 'sovereign', or highest ranking person at the table placed the diadem on his head, then passed it to his neighbour who did the same, and so on round the table to the master, who placed it on the head of his successor and drank his health. The upper warden then placed his garland over the heads of every member of the court of assistants, putting it finally on the head of his successor, and the second and renter wardens then performed a similar ceremony of designation. Finally, the clerk saw that all the garlands were taken back to the parlour, where 4 silver cups of hippocras were ready to be carried to the houses of the new masters and wardens.
During the 1560s there was evidently a strong element of competition between companies at their election feasts. This led to discord within the city, so that in 1573, during the mayoralty of Lionel Ducket, mercer, the companies were forbidden to hold election and other dinners to which guests other than citizens were invited and at which venison was eaten. At the Mercers' Company this precept inaugurated a period of economy. In 1574 and 1577, venison and 'strange guests' were banned at the feast 'on the first day', but they were presumably allowed at the confirmation feast on the second day, when the wardens rather than the company footed the bill. In 1576 the precept was circumvented by inviting influential guests to a special non-election dinner. The 1580s, however, witnessed genuine retrenchment and for seven election dinners during that decade the Mercers' court issued special orders concerning economy. (fn. 97) It was in this period, too, that the practice began of adding wine or bucks to the rents reserved on the company's leases.
During the 1560s a determined effort was made to create a physical setting for these great occasions which redounded to the glory of the fellowship. In the hall this took a characteristically humanist form in the proposal to erect effigies of the great men and benefactors of the company. In 1566 a proposal to set up in the hall monuments of Whittington, Colet, and other benefactors in carved, cast, or painted work, together with their arms, was agreed. Whittington's monument at his burial place in the church of St. Michael Paternoster was also to be embellished. In 1568 it was decided to set up 3 more images, commemorating Sir James Yarford, Sir William Eastfield, and Sir Thomas Gresham. They were to be set on the N. wall of the hall in 'tabernacles' of free stone and as many more tabernacles for other benefactors were to be made as there was room. The images were made in terracotta by Francis Hony, 'ducheman', and were to be finished in oils, silver, and gilt. In addition Hony was to make 6 terracotta maiden heads to place between the 'personages'. In 1569 it was decided that Gresham's personage was not a true likeness and was to be altered or replaced. In spite of this setback, the scheme was a great success. In 1573 images of William Daunteseye (who had formerly been commemorated in an obit) and Sir Michael Dormer were ordered to be set up, and in the following year the wardens were given discretion to add to the series at the company's expense. (fn. 98)
Further work on the decoration of the hall is recorded in the 17th century. In 1622 Sir Baptist Hicks, recently master of the company, gave a new screen for the hall. Expenditure on repairs to the roof and battlements of the hall in 1649 (see above) included payment of a herald-painter's bill, perhaps indicating that the scheme of decoration at that time included the arms of the company and its benefactors. Following a general proclamation, the king's arms were removed from the hall in 1651. The hall regained something of its former splendour at the Restoration, when General Monk, his family, and officers were entertained with feasting, music, and a masque, which only ticket-holders could attend. For the coronation procession along Cheapside in 1661 the stone front of the hall was repaired and the 'frontispiece' (presumably the maiden's head and surrounding work above the doorway) was repainted. (fn. 99)
The letting of rooms at the hall
Mercers' Hall occupied the frontage in a part of Cheapside which was of great commercial importance, and in the mid-16th century there was some conflict between the pressures of trading and the company's desire to maintain its ceremonial dignity, of which the imposing facade of the new building was a notable expression. It was in pursuit of the latter aim that in 1554-5 a new rail 30 yards long was made in Cheapside for the members of the company to stand at during triumphs. These rails or standings were still maintained in the 17th century, and for the well-known procession of Marie de Medici through the city in 1638 were draped with broadcloths. When such events were not taking place, however, the area of the standings was probably busy with traders. In 1558 moves were made to remove the 'costermongers and other fruit women' who were accustomed to stand along the wall by the church door 'tempting youth into unthriftyness'. For a few years up to this date, however, some trading by the hall does seem to have been approved by the company, which between 1552 and 1558 received 10s. rent from Thomas Arenynge for a 'sheade under our hall' which was probably a covered stall in Cheapside. (fn. 100)
The company had been accustomed to let the lower parlour, on the ground floor between the shop (16) and the entry to the church, to the weigher of silk in the city for £4 rent. There was some uncertainity over this office in 1560, when the Lord Mayor made an appointment without consulting the company. The appointee, William Nobell, a haberdasher and a 'promoter', was regarded by the Mercers as quite unsuitable. He was to be allowed to occupy the silk weighhouse for the term of the mayoralty, but members of the company were to do no business with him and the company determined to seek the appointment of its clerk, Leverich Forster, to the office. (fn. 101) On this occasion, however, the Mercers seem to have lost their power to regulate the trade in silk for good, (fn. 102) and the weighhouse presumably ceased to be used.
Relations between the Mercers and the company of Merchant Adventurers had always been close. During the late 15th and early 16th centuries the Adventurers, whose brotherhood was dedicated to St. Thomas, met at Mercers' Hall, and the acts of their court were recorded among those of the Mercers' Company. This direct association ceased about 1527, but the Adventurers continued to keep some of their records at the hall, and in 1547 had a chest of muniments in the inner treasury there. In 1568 the Mercers agreed that a press should be constructed in the wardrobe at their hall in a corner by the ladies' chamber for the safe-keeping of the records belonging to the Adventurers, who were to pay a rent of £6. 13s. 4d. for the privilege. From 1570-1 onwards the Adventurers paid this rent, but for the former silk weighhouse also known as 'the little parlour', on the ground floor, not for the wardrobe which was upstairs, and probably identical with the 'wardrobe chamber' where the 'gentlewomen waiters' sat at banquets (cf. above). The Adventurers continued to occupy this room until the Great Fire. In 1578 they were said to keep their court of assistants there 'from time to time', and from 1603-4 onwards the room was described in the rentals as their 'Assistants' House'. Between 1555 and 1666 the principal meeting place of the Merchant Adventurers appears to have been at Founders' Hall, but evidently a good deal of their business was done in the room at Mercers' Hall where they also kept their records. In 1658 a proposal was made to expel the Adventurers from the room at Mercers' Hall, probably because the traditional rent no longer represented its true value, and Benjamin Thomlinson, grocer, petitioned for a lease instead. On account of the 'ancient amity' of the two bodies, however, the Adventurers were allowed to continue using the room, and in 1661 they took it on lease for a term of 21 years at £15 rent. They were rated for one hearth at Mercers' Hall in 1662-3. (fn. 103)
The chapel beneath the hall was probably not converted for use as a grammar school as had been proposed in 1557 (see above), but the notion, first put forward in 1549-50, that it could be used as shops persisted. In 1572 Henry Bisshoppe proposed that he take a 21-year lease of the chapel for use as a shop, but the company, 'pestered for lack of rooms when any business happens', decided to keep the chapel for use as a spare room. Bisshoppe then found himself a suitable retail outlet by taking a lease of 16 (q.v.). In 1575, at the request of Sir Thomas Gresham, the company agreed to Geoffrey Ducket's suit for a lease of the chapel, which was then empty and served no purpose for the company, for use as a linendraper's shop. The lease was to be for 21 years at £13. 6s. 8d. rent. Ducket was to undertake the conversion at his own expense without defacing the rose (perhaps a window in the chapel) or the building; he was not to make any pentice or stall against the outside of the wall and he was to remove the tomb of Sir John Alleyn into the Mercers' church, where it later stood in the nave. He was only to sublet to mercers. By February 1576 Ducket had spent money on the maidenhead and the company's arms in the porch, presumably in connection with converting the chapel and maintaining its imposing appearance. In July 1577 the possibility of erecting a pentice in front of the shop was being investigated. Ducket paid the rent for the shop from 1577-8 onwards. He seems to have got into debt and in 1584 was allowed to let the shop to whoever offered most for it, whether mercer or not. By 1586 he had divided the shop into two and the company was considering buying out his interest. (fn. 104)
Ducket was recorded as paying the rent for 1586-7, but from then on the former chapel was let as two shops for which rent was received from separate tenants. A rent of £6. 13s. 4d. p.a. was paid for the more westerly shop by the assign of Richard Mannyngham, mercer, between 1587 and 1589 William Kent was Mannyngham's assign in 1589-90, Mannyngham himself paid the rent in 1590-1, and Humphrey Crosse paid the rent as Mannyngham's assign between 1591 and 1598. In 1595 George Dibney, mercer, appears to have been preferred to Crosse as suitor for the next lease of the shop and paid the rent from 1598-9 onwards. Dibney took a 21-year lease of the shop from Michaelmas 1599 in return for the rent and a fine of £50 payable by annual instalments between 1601 and 1603. William Ferrers paid the rent in 1603-4, John Ferrers, mercer, between 1604 and 1609, Nathaniel Bisshop, mercer, between 1609 and 1622, and John Buxton between 1622 and 1624. From 1624 onwards Buxton paid £16 rent and in 1627, when he took a new lease for a further term of 21 years at £16 rent, the shop was said to measure 29 ft. (8.84 m.) by 17 ft. (5.18 m.). In 1645, when Buxton sued for a new lease, the shop was held by his undertenant Richard Nicholas and was said to measure 20 ft. 5 in. (6.22 m.) by 17 ft. (5.18 m.). In 1646 Buxton obtained a new lease for 26 years from 1648 at the old rent and for a fine of £25. He held the shop until 1659, when he was succeeded by his assign Ambrose Nicholas, an ironmonger who still held the property after the Great Fire. (fn. 105)
Samuel Grey, girdler, was recorded as paying £6. 13s. 4d. rent for the more easterly shop between 1587 and 1612. In 1590 it was agreed that he should pay 8s. 3d. a year tithe and in 1595 it was agreed that he should have a lease for a term of 10 years at a fine and rent to be set by the company. In 1605 Grey and his wife Cicely were granted a lease for a term of 10 years from Michaelmas 1606, when they were to pay a fine of £40. Anthony Crew, citizen and mercer, paid the rent from 1612, and in 1614 he and his wife Isabel were granted a 21-year lease for the old rent and a fine of £60. Crew paid the rent until 1633, when a 21-year lease at the old rent, commencing at Michaelmas 1635, was granted to Crew's undertenant Nicholas Williams, citizen and haberdasher, who is also described as a leatherseller, in return for a fine of £80 payable in annual instalments of £20 from 1634 onwards. Williams was recorded as paying the rent between 1633 and 1660, when he was succeeded by his executors or his executrix. In 1653 Williams was granted a new lease for a term of 31 years from 1656 at the old rent and for a fine of £120. Williams died in 1658 when his widow, Elizabeth Williams, obtained permission to assign the shop, where her husband had pursued the trade of leatherseller, to William Empson, leatherseller, who at that time occupied the shop. Elizabeth, however, appears to have continued to pay the rent to the Mercers' Company until 1666. After the Great Fire Edith Hubbard paid the rent. (fn. 106)
The company attracted criticism for allowing the chapel to be used as shops, and in 1616, when Nathaniel Bisshop sued for a lease of his shop, Edward Barnes put forward a scheme whereby, if the company would buy in the leases of the shops, he would at his own cost restore the chapel and return the tomb of Sir John Alleyn to its former position. Barnes gave the company £50. 12s. in earnest of his intention to endow the Mercers with sufficient lands to maintain divine service and a lecture in the chapel. The committee appointed to examine the proposal reported against it in 1618, on the grounds that the shops were too far for hearing from the pulpit of the main chapel and that the income from them was necessary for the company to maintain its charitable obligations. The matter was raised again in 1619-20, but the decision not to take up the proposal was reaffirmed and Barnes's money was returned to him along with £10 as interest. Memories of the former use of the shops persisted, however, and in 1634, when the lease of one of them had recently been renewed, no less a figure than the Earl of Arundel informed the company of the disrepute it had incurred on account of the use of its former chapel. (fn. 107)
Pressure for the commercial use of the Cheapside frontage continued and from 1652 to 1666 a shop within the chapel porch was let to John Clark, stationer, for £8 rent. This shop seems to have occupied only a part of the entry to the chapel, where Clark was doing business before 1652. He was allowed to have a key to the great door of the porch. (fn. 108) In 1671, when the porch had been rebuilt after the Great Fire, Clark was allowed to re-establish his shop there on the west side. (fn. 109)