Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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WESTMINSTER.—ST. MARGARET'S CHURCH.
"London and Westminster are two twin-sister cities, as joyned by one street, so watered by one stream; the first a breeder of grave magistrates; the second the burial-place of great monarchs."—Heywood's "Porta Pietatis."
Early History of St. Margaret's—The Present Church described—A Singular Bequest—Interesting Monuments—"State Services" before the Speaker and Members of the House of Commons—Eminent Puritan Divines—Lecturers and Curates since the Commonwealth—Extracts from the Churchwarden's Accounts—Edmund Waller and the Parliament—The "Solemn League and Covenant"—Pulpit Buffoonery—Long Sermons in Former Times—The "State's Arms"—"Humming" in Church—A Forcible Possession of the Pulpit—Performance of Oratorios—Electioneering Piety—John Milton and Thomas Campbell's Marriage—Disgraceful Condition of the Churchyard—Alterations and Improvements—An Unique Relic.
The "City" of Westminster, properly speaking, consists of only two parishes—St. Margaret's and St. John's; but the "Liberties" of Westminster, as we have shown in a previous chapter, are far more extensive, comprising also those of St. Clement Danes, St. Mary-le-Strand, St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, St. Anne's, Soho, St. James's, Piccadilly, St. Paul's, Covent Garden, and St. George's, Hanover Square; besides the Precincts of the Savoy, the Abbey Precincts, and the Royal Palaces of Whitehall and St. James's.
Although the present Church of St. Margaret retains no traces of details earlier than the reigns of the Plantagenets, yet, says Mr. Mackenzie Walcott, "there is, with the exception of the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul's Cathedral, no other ecclesiastical edifice throughout London and Westminster which can boast a greater antiquity, or more interesting foundation."
The original structure dated from a few years before the Conquest. We are told that Edward the Confessor, finding, as was natural, that a population was growing up around the Abbey walls, and was continually increased further by a miscellaneous crowd of persons who, for good or for bad reasons, sought the shelter of the Sanctuary, raised here a church in the round arched Saxon style, and dedicated it to St. Margaret. Another account represents the king as simply intending to benefit the respectable inhabitants of the neighbourhood. Whichever account is true, at all events one thing is certain—namely, that Edward was the great friend of the monks of St. Peter's, and he was naturally anxious that their spiritual meditations should not be broken in upon by parochial duties or secular cares.
This edifice appears to have stood until the reign of Edward I., when it was almost wholly taken down and rebuilt. Very extensive alterations were made again in the reign of Edward IV., at which time, according to Mr. Timbs, the surrounding level of the ground was nine feet lower than now, and a flight of stone steps led up to the nave.
The present building is a plain, neat, and not inelegant Gothic structure, with a panelled roof, slightly curved. In the old days, before the parishioners began to repair and restore it, the church must have been really handsome in its details, as it still is in its proportions, which are much admired for their harmony. In the tower is a peal of ten bells; these, however, are seldom rung, as on Sundays they would interfere with the services in the Abbey, close by. Formerly the bells had chime-hammers annexed to them, and tunes were played upon them at regular intervals.
The entrance-porch of the nave forms the framework to a beautiful picture. Lofty arches, of a very light and elegant character, with spandrils enriched with quatrefoils and trefoils springing from twelve clustered columns, divide the nave from the aisles. On the right hand, in front of the chancel-arch, is the pulpit, considered the most richly ornamented in the metropolis. The edifice is lighted by a series of large windows; that at the east end is very large and beautiful, and is filled with painted glass. It was made by order of the magistrates of Dort, in Holland, and designed by them as a present to Henry VII., for his new chapel in Westminster Abbey; but that monarch dying before it was finished, it was set up in the private chapel of the Abbot of Waltham, at Copt Hall, near Epping, in Essex. There it remained till the Dissolution, when it was removed to New Hall, in the same county, and on General Monk coming into possession of that place, he preserved the window from demolition. In 1758, when this church underwent a thorough repair, the window was purchased by the inhabitants of the parish for four hundred guineas, and placed in its present situation.
The subject is the Crucifixion, with numerous subordinate figures, all which are of admirable execution. On the one side is King Henry VII., and on the other his queen, both kneeling. Their portraits are stated to have been taken from original pictures, sent to Dort for that purpose. Over the king is the figure of St. George, his patron saint, and above that a white rose and a red one; over the figure of the queen is a representation of St. Catherine of Alexandria, with the instruments of her martyrdom, and above the saint are the arms of the kingdom of Granada. The window occasioned a considerable agitation in the parish, and gave rise to some religious controversy at the time of its insertion. Among the accessory parts, there is a representation of a devil carrying off the soul of the impenitent thief, and an angel performing the same office for that of the penitent one. It was determined by some pious Protestants that this was downright Popery, if not blasphemy, and that such "superstitious allegories" were not proper to be admitted into a church set apart by law for the reformed worship. Even some members of the Chapter of Westminster Abbey, in whose gift the living is, expressed their discontent on the subject, as incompatible with the spirit of the Prayer Book. Through the firmness of the rector, Dr. Wilson, the window was happily preserved and maintained in its position; and the Society of Antiquaries caused a fine engraving of it to be made at their own expense.
The putting up of this splendid window gave rise to a serious and tedious law-suit against the churchwardens, which was brought forward under an old dormant statute of Edward VI., namely, "An Act for abolishing and putting away divers Books and Images," the ground of offence being the representation of the Crucifixion of our Blessed Lord, which the prosecution were pleased to term a "superstitious image or picture;" and a further grievance, that the churchwardens had not first obtained a faculty or licence from the Ordinary. However, this Act was made against actual images, not paintings or delineations upon walls or in windows. The prosecution was instituted in the name of Daniel Gell, the Registrar of the Ecclesiastical Court of the Dean and Chapter, who was in consequence struck off the list of vestrymen. The suit lasted seven years, and its conclusion is thus mentioned in the "Annual Register:"—"An appeal came lately before the Court of Delegates, between the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey and the parishioners of St. Margaret's, concerning the painted window in the church: the bill was ordered to be dismissed, each side being condemned to pay its own costs."
The memory of the successful issue of this trial is perpetuated in a very beautiful and richly-chased cup, stand, and cove, silver-gilt, weighing upwards of ninety-three ounces, which Mr. Samuel Pierson, who had been churchwarden for seven successive years, presented during the time as a gift for ever to the churchwardens of the parish. It is the "loving cup" of St. Margaret's, and is produced with especial ceremony at the chief parochial entertainments.
Close by the north-west porch of the church is an ancient and massive carved seat, evidently of the fifteenth century; on it every Sunday, after morning prayers, six pence and a loaf of bread are given away to each of sixteen poor widows belonging to the parish, the bequest of Mrs. Joyce Goddard, in 1621.
In various parts of the church are monuments, more or less sumptuous and tasteful, to Mr. James Palmer, the founder of Palmer's Almshouses, and a native of the parish; to Thomas Arneway, and to Cornelius Vandan, both large benefactors of St. Margaret's parish; the latter monument bears the date 1577.
At the eastern corner of the south aisle, in an enclosure forming a vestibule to both the vestry and the church, are some very interesting monuments. The largest and finest of these is one in the Jacobean style, to Marie, Lady Dudley, a daughter of the Lord High Admiral, Lord Howard of Effingham, and grand-daughter of Thomas, second Duke of Norfolk. She died in the year 1600, having married first Edward Sutton, Lord Dudley, and secondly Richard Montpesson, Esq., who erected the tomb. The husband is represented in a kneeling attitude, the lady recumbent. The monument, which bears a striking resemblance to the "Founder's Tomb" in the Charter House Chapel, is beautifully adorned with colour and armorial bearings.
Opposite to it is a mural tablet in memory of William Caxton, "who, as early as the year 1477, set up a printing-press in the Abbey," as already mentioned in our account of the Almonry. This was erected in 1820 by the Roxburghe Club, under the auspices of its president, Earl Spencer. Near it is another mural tablet recording the fact of Sir Walter Raleigh's body having been buried here on the day of his execution in Palace Yard. On it are inscribed the following words:—"Reader, should you reflect on his errors, remember his many virtues, and that he was mortal;" words which, perhaps, would have been better addressed to King James, when they might have altered his fate.
The question has more than once been started as to the burial-place of Wenceslaus Hollar. In the introduction to the catalogue of the exhibition of his etchings at the Burlington Fine Arts Club, Vertue is quoted by the compiler as having found the register of his death at St. Margaret's Church, which agrees with the account of Aubrey. But in Mr. Jesse's "Memorials of London"—a very trustworthy book—we are tld that his remains lie in the burying-ground attached to the "New Chapel" in "Petty France." It does not, of course, follow that because the name of Hollar is to be found in the register of St. Margaret's Church, therefore his body was buried in that church, or even in the churchyard; but Aubrey happens to mention the very spot—"near the north-west corner of the tower"—and he is followed by another painstaking antiquary, Mr. Peter Cunningham. An interesting notice of Hollar's life will be found in Aubrey, who tells us that his father was ruined on account of adopting the Protestant religion, but that the artist died a Catholic; "of which religion," he quaintly adds, "I suppose he might be ever since he came to Arundel House."
In the ambulatory, near the door of the porch
under the tower, is a mural monument to Mrs.
Elizabeth Corbett, which is of considerable interest
on account of its inscription, consisting of ten lines
of verse from the pen of Pope. The literature of
tombstones is not always of a first-rate order; but
it deserves to be noted that Dr. Johnson, in his
"Lives of the Poets," mentions this inscription as
perhaps the happiest and the best specimen of such
poetry. The verses run as follows:—
"Here rests a woman, good without pretence,
Blest with plain reason, and with sober sense:
No conquest she but her own self desired,
No arts essayed, but not to be admired:
Passion and pride were to her soul unknown;
Convinced that virtue only is our own:
So unaffected, so composed a mind,
So firm, yet soft, so strong, yet so refined,
Heaven, as its purest gold, by tortures tried;—
The saint sustain'd it, but the woman died."
"I have always," says Dr. Johnson, "considered this as the most valuable of all Pope's epitaphs: the subject of it is a character not discriminated by any shining or eminent peculiarities; yet that which really makes, though not the splendour, the felicity of life, and that which every wise man will choose for his final and lasting companion in the languor of age, in the quiet of privacy, when he departs weary and disgusted from the ostentatious, the volatile, and the vain. Of such a character, which the dull overlook, and the gay despise, it was fit that the value should be made known, and the dignity established. Domestic virtue, as it is exerted without great occasions, or conspicuous consequences, in an even unnoted tenor, required the genius of Pope to display it in such a manner as might attract regard and enforce reverence. Who can forbear to lament that this amiable woman has no name in the verses? If the particular lines of this inscription be examined, it will appear less faulty than the rest. There is scarcely one line taken from common places, unless it be that in which virtue only is said to be our own. I once heard a lady of great beauty and excellence object to the fourth line, that it contained an unnatural and incredible panegyric. Of this let the ladies judge." Those who are inclined to be hypercritical might possibly object to the third line, as not being quite in strict accordance with the grammatical rule which objects to the omission of words which are necessary to express the whole meaning of the writer. The word "over," or some equivalent, is surely necessary here, before the words "her own self." But a little licence must be allowed to poets, and they must not be tied down too closely to literal accuracy and exact expressions.
St. Margaret's Church has also the honour of
holding the remains of Skelton, the merry poetlaureate of Henry VIII. Over his tomb is the
following whimsical inscription:—
"Come, Alecto, lend me thy torch,
To find a churchyard in a church porch;
Poverty and poetry this tomb doth enclose
Therefore, gentlemen, be merry in prose."
On the walls of the vestry hang two old and curious prints giving views of the interior of the church in the reigns of Charles II. and of William and Mary, with the House of Commons in state attending the service. The latter engraving is a copy of the print by Brook, prefixed to Warner's edition of the "Book of Common Prayer," printed for Crockhall and Hodges, in 1695. It shows the old east window with the date 1692 (upwards of half a century before the erection of the present window), the communion-table before the erection of the basso-relievo modelled by Van Nost, and several monuments now removed, as well as the original pew of the Speaker—on the epistle side of the chancel—and the old pulpit and reading-desk, which are different in character and position from those in use at the present day. We give a copy of this engraving below.
Down to a very recent date, the Speaker and the House of Commons used to attend this church in state upon the days of what were known as the "State Services," such as the 30th of January (King Charles' Martyrdom), the 5th of November (Gunpowder Plot), the day of the King's or Queen's Accession, and the 29th of May (the Restoration of King Charles II.), when the sermon was always delivered by the Speaker's chaplain. Of late years the attendance of members of the Lower House had dwindled down to some seven or eight individuals, besides the Speaker himself, the Serjeantat-Arms, and a sprinkling of clerks of the House. The State services were struck out of the Book of Common Prayer by an order in Council in the year 1858, and from that day "Mr. Speaker" has not appeared here in his wig and gown upon a week-day.
Mr. Mackenzie Walcott enumerates the following names in a list of the most eminent Puritan divines who have occupied the pulpit of St. Margaret's Church:—Calamy, Vines, Nye, Manton, Marshall, Gauden, Owen, Burgess, Newcomen, Reynolds, Cheynell, Baxter, the "critical" Lightfoot, the "illuminated" Doctor Taylor; Goodwyn, the "windmill with a weathercock atop;" and Case, who censured Oliver Cromwell to his face, and who, when discoursing before General Monk, cried out, "There are some who will betray three kingdoms for filthy lucre's sake," and threw his handkerchief into the General's face, suiting the action to the word.
This church has had several distinguished clergymen as lecturers and curates since the time of the Commonwealth, among whom we may name Dr. Outram, the accomplished Oriental scholar, and author of "De Sacrificiis;" Dr. Sprat, afterwards Dean of Westminster and Bishop of Rochester; Richard Widmore, the historian of the Abbey; Dr. Wilson, who received a sharp reprimand from George III., soon after his accession, for his fulsome flattery of the King in the pulpit—his Majesty informing Dr. Wilson that he went to church "to hear God praised, and not himself;" Dr. Taylor, the friend of Dr. Johnson, and who performed the burial service at the funeral of the great lexicographer; Dr. Stevens, afterwards Dean of Rochester; Dr. Webber, who became Dean of Ripon; and lastly, Dr. Henry Hart Milman, the Church historian, afterwards Dean of St. Paul's, who died in 1868.
As might be expected, the church does not now possess all that it could boast of in the way of accessories and ornaments before the Reformation. Besides its nave, it once had a choir, now almost wholly removed; and in its side aisles were chapels with altars dedicated to St. Margaret, St. George, St. Katharine, St. Cornelius, St. Erasmus, St. John, and two to St. Nicholas and St. Christopher. The churchwardens' accounts, still existing, serve to show with how much of zeal and devotion these altars were maintained down to the time of their dismantling by order of Henry VIII.
Some idea may be formed as to the rapidity with which ecclesiastical changes were wrought in the system of the English Church when we add that whereas in 1556 the sum of 11s. was paid to one Clerke "for making thymage (sic) of St. Margaret," in 1559 we find entries of 2s. 8d., of 1s., and of 1s. to John Rial for "taking down the Roode Mary and John," for "taking down the tabil (sic), or the high altar," and for "cleaving and sawing the Rood Mary and John." It may be noted also that the large sum of 1s. was charged and paid "for ringing at the beheading of the Queen of Scotts." In 1563, a plague similar to the influenza visited Westminster, and the inhabitants were compelled to perform quarantine. Under this year there is an entry as follows:—"1563. Item.—To the paynter of Totehill Street for payntinge of certeyn blew crosses to be fyxed upon sundrie houses infected, vj."
A century later, a red cross was the mark of an infected house. Thirty years afterwards the dogs were supposed to carry the plague about in their coats, on which the inhabitants commenced a crusade against them, and resolved to abide in their filth and carelessness. In the next ten years the persecution was renewed, and in 1603 a plague devastated the parish, when among the entries is the following:—"Payd for the graves of CCCCLI. poore folk xxxvijs vijd."—doubtless a contract job. There are also items for "pitch and tarre for the visited houses, 12d.," and for "papers with 'Lord, have mercy upon us!' 12d." The dogs were again assailed, and 500 were slaughtered as a propitiation to the demon of pestilence. In the above year one Robert Wells of this parish was paid the sum of 6s. 8d. "for killing of fourscore dogs." The same individual appears to have received 10s. for "ringing at the time when the Parliament-house should have been blown up." The more recent entries refer for the most part to such prosaic matters as loads of gravel, work done about the hospital, the making of petticoats, beds, bolsters, &c., for the children, and the erection and repair of the "Butts" in "Tuthill Fields."
In May, 1642, the plot of Edmund Waller, the poet, designed to resist the violent councils of the Parliament, was first made known in St. Margaret's. "At a solemn fast, when they were listening to the sermon, a messenger entered the church, and communicated his errand to Pym, who whispered it to others who were placed near him, and then went with them out of the church, leaving the rest in solicitude and amazement. They immediately sent guards to the proper places, and that night apprehended Tompkyns and Waller, having yet traced nothing, but that letters had been intercepted, from which it appeared that the Parliament and the City were soon to be delivered into the hands of the Cavaliers."
In September of the same year the Solemn League and Covenant was taken in this church by both Houses of Parliament, the Assembly of Divines, and the Scottish Commissioners. "Mr. Nye read the Covenant from the pulpit, all signifying their assent to it by holding up their hands; and the members afterwards signed the parchmentroll, and then Dr. Gouge implored a blessing upon their act."
In the general spoliation of the churches which took place after the "martyrdom" of Charles I., St. Margaret's did not escape the ruthless storm, for we learn that "the font was broken down, and replaced by a miserable pewter basin, the organ was sold to a Puritan brazier, the altar destroyed, the beautiful chancel-screen hewn down, monumental brasses were torn from the graves of the sleeping departed, monuments and inscriptions were irreparably defaced."
"One scene," writes Mr. Mackenzie Walcott, "is preserved to us of those troublous times, which is a memorable example of 'Religion turned into Rebellion and Faith into Faction.' On December 20, 1648, the notorious Hugh Peters, the 'pulpitbuffoon,' as he is styled by Dugdale, preached his memorable sermon before the House of Commons; and the following description of it forms part of the evidence upon which he was condemned, and made to suffer the just recompense of his guilt on October 16, 1660, presenting a memorable spectacle of meanness and a thorough coward's heart." The evidence of an eye-witness (Mr. Beaver) thus describes the scene:—"I passed through St. Margaret's Churchyard to go on my way home again. . . . I perceived all the churchyard full of musquets and pikes upon the ground, and asked some of the soldiers who were there guarding the Parliament, that were keeping a fast at St. Margaret's. 'Who preaches?' said I. They told me, 'Mr. Peters is just now gone up into the pulpit.' Said I, 'Well, I must needs have the curiosity to hear that man,' having already heard many stories about his preaching, though God knows I did not do it out of any matter of devotion. I crowded near the pulpit, and came near the Speaker's pew, . . . and I saw a great many members there whom I knew well." He then proceeds to record at length the vile blasphemy of this fierce-minded fanatic, who drew a shocking parallel between the events of those times and the circumstances of the condemnation of our Lord and Saviour, calling King Charles "the great Barabbas, the murderer, the tyrant, and the traitor." For two or three hours' time that he spent, he (Mr. Peters) did nothing but rake up all the reasons, arguments, and examples that he could in order to persuade them to bring the king to a condign, speedy, and capital punishment.
The first notice of any parliamentary assistance being granted to St. Margaret's Church occurs in the year 1650, under the Commonwealth. "It is most probable," writes Mr. Mackenzie Walcott, "that soon after the ancient chapel of St. Stephen had been yielded up by King Edward VI. to be a place no more of prayer, but for the deliberations of the House of Commons, the members of the lower House of Parliament attended divine service in St. Margaret's Church while the Lords went to the Abbey. In the reign of King James I., however, we have certain proof of their partaking of the Holy Sacrament in St. Margaret's."
Long sermons, it is well known, were the rule of the day under the Puritan régime. Thus we read that "on Tuesday, November 17, 1640, was the Fast Day, which was kept piously and devoutly. Dr. Burgess and Mr. Marshall preached before the House, at least seven hours between them, taking their texts from Jeremiah i. 5 and 2 Chronicles ii. 2," respectively.
In 1660, "the State's Arms," which had been painted up in various parts of the church and vestry, were removed, and an order was made by the vestry "that the churchwardens prepare the King's Majesty's arms, to be richly carved, made, and gilded, after the best manner that can be invented, with as much grace as may be, to be set up in the parish church of St. Margaret, and to be as fair and beautiful in every respect as the King's Arms are set up in and about the City of London." They are now preserved in the vestry.
The first gallery in the church was built in the north aisle in 1641, and in 1681 it was determined to build another over the south aisle, "exclusively for persons of quality." On this occasion we are told incidentally that Sir Christopher Wren himself attended in the vestry, and promised to lend his assistance in its design and erection. We learn from Mr. Mackenzie Walcott that the ill-advised gentleman who presented this cumbrous gift to the church was a certain civic knight, a loyalist and a miser, Sir John Cutler, the same who is immortalised by Pope's cutting satire. It must be remembered in his excuse that Wren knew little about the theory and principles of the Gothic or Pointed architecture, though so skilled in all that was connected with every variety of the Classical or Italian school.
About the sermons of the time and the demeanour of the congregation Dr. Johnson relates a singular anecdote. "Burnet and Spratt were old rivals. On some public occasion they both preached before the House of Commons. There prevailed in those days an indecent custom: when the preacher touched any favourite topic in a manner that delighted his audiences, their approbation was expressed by a loud hum, continued in proportion to their zeal or pleasure. When Burnet preached, part of his congregation hummed so loudly and so long, that he sat down to enjoy it, and rubbed his face with his handkerchief. When Spratt preached, he likewise was honoured with a like animating hum, but he stretched out his hand to the congregation, and cried, 'Peace, peace; I pray you, peace!'" "Burnet's sermon," says Salmon, "was remarkable for sedition, and Spratt's for loyalty. Burnet had the thanks of the House; Spratt had no thanks, but a good living from the King, which he said was of as much value as the thanks of the Commons." It is said that one day when preaching here before the House of Commons, Bishop Burnet turned his hour-glass, in order to show that he was about to continue his discourse, and that he was nearly interrupted by the applauding murmurs of his hearers—a strong testimony to his eloquence, or their power of endurance.
A curious traditionary custom had been preserved here, to commemorate the restoration of the Royal Family. A triumphal arch was raised every year in the church; but early in the last century a portion of it, happening to fall, killed a carpenter, whereupon the vestry directed that "the triumphal arch behind the pulpit should be taken down, erected by Sir William Playters, Knt."
In 1735 the church was repaired, and its tower cased, the expense of the undertaking being defrayed by a Parliamentary grant, in consideration of its being the church where the members of the House of Commons attended divine service on stated holidays.
The celebrated Whitfield, too, preached one of his extraordinary discourses in this church one Sunday evening in February, 1739, "having actually seized possession of the pulpit by violence; and then was locked up in it by the sexton, and kept there guarded by six lusty fellows, to the great confusion of the bewildered congregation."
In June, 1742, the House of Commons formally renewed a resolution which had been passed in 1699, but had gradually come to be neglected, to the effect "that for the future no person, except the chaplain, who was under the dignity of a Dean or the Degree of Doctor of Divinity, be recommended to preach before this House." The original order, it appears, was made in consequence of a wicked comment made by one of the Puritan preachers, Stephen Marshall, on the death of King Charles I., saying that "it should be a lesson to all kings lest they should come to the same end."
In 1763 the vestry directed that "the figures of St. Peter and St. Paul should be painted, in imitation of statuary, by Mr. Cassali, and placed in niches on each side of the altar of the church." This was done at the cost of nearly £40, which was part of a gift of the Duke of Northumberland to the parish.
In May, 1792–93, and again in June, 1794, there was a performance of sacred music in this church, the oratorio of the "Messiah" being surg, for the benefit of the Royal Society of British Musicians, under the patronage of George III. In 1795, however, an objection was raised to a repetition of these musical festivals, on the ground that for a considerable length of time the church had to be closed, in order to be prepared with seats sufficiently numerous to accommodate the large audience meeting for such a purpose; and, accordingly, that year witnessed the last of these performances in St. Margaret's Church.
An anecdote illustrative of what may be styled electioneering piety, is told about this church. In the year 1768 a printed notice was stuck upon the doors and walls of the church, one Sunday morning, to the effect that "The prayers of the congregation are earnestly desired for the restoration of liberty, depending on the election of Mr. Wilkes."
In St. Margaret's Church, in 1656, John Milton was married to his second wife, Katherine Woodcocke, of the parish of Aldermanbury. Here, too, Thomas Campbell was married. Cyrus Redding remarks that all the good and orderly traits of the poet were contemporary with his married life, neither before nor after which had he any fixed or settled habits. "He lost his early bad habits when he married, and fell into them again, afterwards, when he became a widower."
In this church was baptised, in November, 1640, Barbara Villiers, afterwards the notorious Duchess of Cleveland, of whom we shall have more to say hereafter, when we come to treat of St. James's Palace and its neighbourhood.
Mr. Wood, in his "Ecclesiastical Antiquities of London," says there was a "scala cœli" in this church; but in all probability he has mistaken St. Margaret's Chapel for that of St. Marie de la Pieu, which stood close to St. Stephen's Chapel. Tradition says that a stone cross and pulpit stood here, as at St. Paul's, but no picture of it is known to exist at the present day.
In the north porch, between the outer and inner doorways, are kept with religious care two ancient parish fire-engines, with their primitive hose and a few water-buckets. They are curious relics of the past.
For many years, down to the time when Parliament came to a decision on the subject of intramural interment, the churchyard of St. Margaret's had been a standing disgrace to the parish, in consequence of its overcrowded condition. In 1850 Dr. Reid reported that "the state of the buryingground was prejudicial to the air supplied at the Houses of Parliament, and also to the whole neighbourhood; that offensive emanations had been noticed at all hours of the night and morning;" and that even "fresh meat was frequently tainted by the deleterious gases issuing from this churchyard." A new burial-ground for the parish was at length obtained in the neighbourhood of the Fulham Road, and the churchyard was levelled and paved over with grave-stones.
It has frequently been proposed to remove even the church itself, as obstructing the view of the Abbey. Many persons, however, are of opinion that it serves to set off the larger edifice, whose grandeur is all the more clearly seen when placed in close contrast with the humble parochial edifice. Canon Conway remarks that—"It may be questioned whether the removal of the church would greatly improve the view of the Abbey from the northern approach, inasmuch as the great length of the Abbey when seen in full flank (as may be noticed from Vauxhall Bridge) must awkwardly expose the defect occasioned by the absence of the central tower."
The alterations and improvements in the neighbourhood of the Abbey date from about the year 1806. Hunter, writing in 1811, congratulates his readers on the fact that at the cost of nearly half a million "the whole of the buildings which obscured St. Margaret's Church, between King Street and Palace Yard, have been removed, and also those in the Broad Sanctuary east and west of the new Sessions House." These buildings were shown in prints published at the end of the last century, and early in the present. In 1808, or the following year, a further sweep was made, and with much that was old and dirty it is to be feared that many relics of antiquity perished.
An unique relic belonging to this parish is the tobacco-box in the keeping of the Past Overseers' Society. It is an object of antiquarian curiosity, and an article of considerable intrinsic value. Its history is curious and interesting. The original oval-shaped box, made of common horn, and of a portable size for the pocket, was purchased by a Mr. Monck at "Horn Fair," in the village of Charlton, near Woolwich, for the trifling sum of fourpence, and from it he often replenished his neighbour's pipe at the meetings of his predecessors and companions in the office of overseers of the poor. In 1713 he presented it to the Society of Past Overseers, and in 1720 this body of worthies ornamented the lid with a silver rim, in commemoration of the donor. The next addition was a silver side-case and bottom, in 1726. In 1740 an embossed border was placed upon the lid, and the bottom enriched with an emblem of Charity. In 1746 Hogarth engraved inside the lid a bust of the Duke of Cumberland, with allegorical figures and scroll, commemorating the Battle of Culloden. In 1765 an interwoven scroll was added to the lid, enclosing a plate with the arms of the City of Westminster, and an inscription to the following effect:—"This box to be delivered to every succeeding set of overseers, on penalty of five guineas."
The original horn box being thus ornamented, an additional case of silver, lined with crimson velvet, was provided for it, and this, in its turn, became enveloped in a third, fourth, and fifth case, each bearing proofs of the liberality of its several custodians—the senior overseer for the time being—silver plates engraved with emblematical and historical subjects, portraits, and inscriptions. The outer case, which was added in 1825, is an ovaloctagon, and stands about two feet in height. Its sides and top are completely covered with plates of silver, engraved with the names of the overseers and churchwardens for the various years, and a few lines recording some of the principal public or local events for the time being. The last addition made to it is divided into two parts, in consequence of the diminution of space, and bears the following inscription:—
|St. Margaret's.||St. John's.|
|J. W. King.||W. J. Bennett.|
|F. Davis.||J. Margrie.|
|C. Shadwell.||G. T. Miller.|
|W. C. Scrivener.||G. Cook.|
Among the historical subjects engraved on the inner cases are, a view of the fireworks in St. James's Park, to celebrate the Peace of Aix-laChapelle, in 1749; Admiral Keppel's Action off Ushant, and his acquittal after a court-martial; the Battle of the Nile; the Battle of Trafalgar, 1805; the Battle of Waterloo, 1815; the Bombardment of Algiers, 1816; the interior of the old House of Lords at the Trial of Queen Caroline, 1820; and the Coronation of George IV. and his visit to Scotland, in 1822. The whole of these subjects are beautifully engraved, as also are the portraits, of which there are several, embracing among others, John Wilkes, churchwarden in 1759, and afterwards Lord Mayor of London; Nelson, Duncan, Howe, Vincent, Fox, and Pitt; George IV. as Prince Regent, the Princess Charlotte, and Queen Charlotte. The most interesting engravings, perhaps, are those of local subjects, such as the "View of the North Front of Westminster Hall;" the "Interior of Westminster Hall, with the Volunteers of the City of Westminster attending Divine Service at the Drumhead on a Fast Day, 1803;" the "Old Sessions' House;" a "View of St. Margaret's, from the Northwest," and also views of the west front, the tower, and the altar-piece. In 1813 a large silver plate was added to the then outer case, with a portrait of the Duke of Wellington, commemorating the centenary of the box.
The top of the second case has a representation of the Guardians of the Poor in the Boardroom, and an inscription, which runs as follows:—"The original box and cases to be given to every succeeding set of overseers, on penalty of fifty guineas, 1783." It will be observed from this last inscription that the fine imposed was now multiplied by ten.
In 1793, Mr. Read, a past overseer, detained the box in revenge, because his accounts had not been passed. An action was brought against the offender, which was long delayed, owing to two members of the society giving him a release, which he successfully pleaded in bar to the action. This rendered it necessary to take proceedings in Equity; and accordingly a bill was filed in the Court of Chancery against all three, and Mr. Read was compelled to deposit the box with Master Leeds until the end of the suit. Three long years of litigation ensued. Eventually the Chancellor directed the box to be restored to the Overseers' Society, and Mr. Read paid in costs £300. The extra costs amounted to £76 13s. 11d., owing to the illegal proceedings of Mr. Read. Some £90 were at once raised, and the surplus spent upon adding a third case, of an octagon shape. The top records the triumph—Justice trampling upon a prostrate man, from whose face a mask falls upon a writhing serpent. A second plate, on the outside of the fly-lid, represents the Lord Chancellor, Lord Loughborough, pronouncing his decree for the restoration of the box, March 5, 1796.
On the fourth case is an engraving of the Anniversary Meeting of the Past Overseers' Society, with the churchwarden giving the charge previous to delivering the box to the succeeding overseer, who is bound to produce it at certain parochial entertainments, with three pipes of tobacco at the least, under the penalty of six bottles of claret, and to return the whole, with some addition, safe and sound, under a penalty of 200 guineas. One plate on the outer case records the royal command for the box to be taken to Buckingham Palace, and the fact of its inspection by Her Majesty, the Prince Consort, and the royal family. A tobaccostopper of mother-of-pearl, with a silver chain, enclosed within the box, completes this unique memorial of the kindly feeling which perpetuates year by year the old ceremonies of this most united parish, and renders this traditionary piece of plate of great price, far outweighing its own intrinsic value.
The parish of St. Margaret's in olden time extended as far as Charing Cross, and even up the Strand as far as the western boundary of the houses in St. Clement's Danes. Though the site of the old palace of Whitehall, to the extent of about three acres, was made extra-parochial at an early date, yet the registers of this parish contain records of a great number of baptisms and burials from almost every part of it which can be identified by name—the Palace itself, the Queen's House, the Pantry, the Laundry, the Chapel, the Tilt-Yard, the Privy Garden, the Tennis Court, and lastly the Cock-pit.
It may be well to conclude this chapter by remarking that St. Margaret's Church is dedicated not to the holy Queen of Scotland, as most persons imagine, but to St. Margaret "Virgin and Martyr of Antioch," on whose well-known legend Dean Milman founded the story of the poem which first made his name known to the world, "The Martyr of Antioch."