The Priory of St. Mary, Spittle—A Royal Visit—The Spital Sermons—A Long Sermon—Roman Remains—The Silk Weavers—French Names,
and Modern Versions of them—Riots in Spitalfields—Bird Fanciers—Small Heads—"Cat and Dog Money."
The original Priory of St. Mary Spittle was founded
by Walter Brune and Rosia his wife, in the year
1197. It was surrendered at the dissolution to
King Henry, and at that time the hospital which
belonged to the priory was found to contain one
hundred and eighty beds. In place of the hospital
many large mansions were built, and among these
Strype especially mentions that of Sir Horatio Pallavicini, an Italian merchant, who acted as ambassador to Queen Elizabeth; and in the reign of
James I. we find the Austrian ambassador lodging
In the year 1559 Queen Elizabeth came in state
from St. Mary Spittle, attended by a thousand men
in harness, and ten great guns, with drums, flutes,
and trumpets sounding, and morris-dancers bringing two white bears in a cart.
Long after the dissolution a portion of the large
churchyard of the hospital remained, with a pulpit
cross within a walled enclosure, at which cross, on
certain days every Easter, sermons were preached.
Opposite that pulpit was a small two-storeyed building, where the alderman and sheriffs came to hear
the sermons, with their ladies at a window over
them. Foxe, in his "Book of Martyrs," repeatedly
mentions these Spital sermons.
The preaching at the Spittle seems to have been
a custom of great antiquity. It is said that Dr.
Barrow once preached a sermon on charity at the
Spittle, before the Lord Mayor and aldermen, which
occupied three hours and a half. Being asked,
after he came down from the pulpit, if he was not
tired, "Yes, indeed," said he, "I began to be weary
with standing so long."
In 1594 a gallery was built near the pulpit for
the governor and children of Christ's Hospital;
and in 1617 we find many of the Lords of King
James's Privy Council attending the Spital sermons,
and afterwards dining with the Lord Mayor, at a
most liberal and bountiful dinner at Billingsgate.
"It appears," says Bingham, speaking of the
Spital sermons, "it was usual in those times that
on Good Friday a divine of eminence should, by
appointment, expatiate on Christ's passion, in a
sermon at Paul's Cross; on the three days next
Easter, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, a bishop,
a dean, and a doctor of divinity, should preach at
the Spital concerning the resurrection; and on
Low Sunday another learned divine was to rehearse
the substance of the other four, in a fifth sermon.
At this the Lord Mayor and Corporation always
attended, robed in violet gowns, on Good Friday
and Easter Wednesday, and on the other days in
scarlet. This custom continued till the great
rebellion, in 1642, when it was discontinued. However, it was revived after the Restoration, except
that instead of being preached at Paul's Cross,
which had been demolished, the sermons were in
the choir of the cathedral. After the Great Fire
they were discontinued, both at St. Paul's Church
and at the Spital, and the Easter sermons were
delivered at some appointed church, and at last at
St. Bridget's, in Fleet Street, where they continued
invariably till the late repairs of that church, when
they were removed to Christ Church, Newgate Street,
where they still continue."
In 1576, says Stow, in treating of a brick-field
near the Spital churchyard, there were discovered
many Roman funeral urns, containing copper coins
of Claudius, Vespasian, Nero, Antoninus Pius, and
Trajan, lachrymatories, Samian ware lamps, and
small images, also Saxon stone coffins. Dr. Carrsatmalsa found there a skull, which he believed to
be a giant's, though others took it for an elephant's.
Some of these stone coffins are still preserved in
the vaults of Christ Church.
Bagford, in Leland's "Collectanea," mentions
the Priory of St. Mary Spittle as then standing,
strongly built of timber, with a turret at one angle.
Its ruins, says Mr. Timbs, were discovered early
in the last century, north of Spital Square. The
pulpit, destroyed during the Civil Wars, stood at
the north-east corner of the square. In the map
of Elizabeth's reign the Spittle Fields are at the
north-east extremity of London, with only a few
houses on the site of the Spital. A map published
a century later shows a square field bounded with
houses, with the old artillery-ground, which had
formerly belonged to the priory, on the west. Culpeper, the famous herbalist, occupied a house then
in the fields, and subsequently a public-house at
the corner of Red Lion Court.
ST. HELEN'S PRIORY, AND LEATHERSELLERS' HALL. (From a View, by Malcolm, 1799.)
This is the great district for silk-weavers. "Spital
Square," says Mr. Timbs, "at the south-east corner,
has been the heart of the silk district since 'the
poor Protestant strangers, Walloons and French,'
driven from France by the revocation of the Edict
of Nantes, settled here, and thus founded the silk
manufacture in England; introducing the weaving
of lustrings, alamodes, brocades, satins, paduasoys,
ducapes, and black velvets. In 1713 it was stated
that silks, gold and silver stuffs, and ribbons were
made here, as good as those of French fabric,
and that black silk for hoods and scarves was made
actually worth three hundred thousand pounds.
During the reigns of Queen Anne, George 1., and
George II., the Spitalfields weavers greatly increased; in 1832, 50,000 persons were entirely dependent on the silk-manufacture, and the looms
varied from 14,000 to 17,000. Of these great
numbers are often unemployed; and the distribution of funds raised for their relief has attracted to
Spitalfields a great number of poor persons, and
thus pauperised the district. The earnings of
weavers, in 1854, did not exceed ten shillings per
week, working fourteen to sixteen hours a day.
The weaving is either the richest, or the thinnest
and poorest. The weavers are principally English,
and of English origin, but the manufacturers, or
masters, are of French extraction, and the Guillebauds, the Desormeaux, the Chabots, the Turquands, the Mercerons, and the Chauvets trace
their connection with the refugees of 1685. Many
translated their names into English, by which the
old families may still be known: thus, the Lemaitres called themselves Masters; the Leroys,
King; the Tonneliers, Coopers; the Lejeunes,
Young; the Leblancs, White; the Lenoirs, Black;
the Loiseaux, Bird."
SIR PAUL PINDAR'S LODGE.
(From a View Published by N. Smith, 1791.)
THE "SIR PAUL PINDAR."
(From an Original Sketch.)
ROOM IN SIR PAUL PINDAR'S HOUSE. (From a Drawing by J. T. Smith, 1810.)
Riots among the Spitalfields weavers, for many
a century, were of frequent occurrence. Any decline of prices, or opposition in trade, set these
turbulent workmen in a state of violent effervescence. At one time they sallied out in parties,
and tore off the calico gowns from every woman
they met. Perhaps the greatest riot was in 1765,
when, on the occasion of the king going to Parliament to give his assent to the Regency Bill, they
formed a great procession, headed by red flags and
black banners, to present a petition to the House,
complaining that they were reduced to starvation
by the importation of French silks. They terrified
the House of Lords into an adjournment, insulted
several hostile members, and in the evening attacked
Bedford House, and tried to pull down the walls,
declaring that the duke had been bribed to make
the treaty of Fontainebleau, which had brought
French silks and poverty into the land. The Riot
Act was then read, and detachments of the Guards
called out. The mob then fled, many being much
hurt and trampled on. At a yet later date mobs
of Spitalfields weavers used to break into houses
and cut the looms of men who were working with
improved machinery. Many outrages were committed by these "cutters," and many lives lost in
scuffles and fights.
The older houses inhabited by the weavers have
wide latticed windows in the upper storeys, to light
the looms. Being nearly all bird-fanciers, the
weavers supply London with singing-birds, and
half the linnets, woodlarks, goldfinches, and greenfinches sold in the metropolis are caught by Spitalfields weavers in October and March. They are
fond of singing-matches, which they determine by
the burning of an inch of candle.
Spitalfields weavers are said to have extremely
small heads, 6½ or 6¾ inches being the prevailing
width, although the average size of the male head
in England is 7 inches. We do not know whether
the weavers still continue the old clothworkers'
habit of singing at their looms, as mentioned by
Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. "I would I were a
weaver," says Falstaff; "I could sing all manner
of songs." And Cutbeard, in Ben Jonson's Silent
Woman, remarks, "He got his cold with sitting up
late, and singing catches with clothworkers."
Spitalfields was a hamlet of Stepney until 1729,
when it was made a distinct parish, and Christ
Church consecrated. Among the parochial charities, says Mr. Timbs, is "Cat and Dog Money," an
eccentric bequest to be paid on the death of certain
pet dogs and cats.
In one of the houses in Spital Square lived Pope's
friend, the celebrated Lord Bolingbroke.