CXIV. THE ADVOWSON OF THE UNITED RECTORY OF ST. HELEN'S, BISHOPSGATE, WITH ST. MARTIN'S OUTWICH.
THE ANCIENT HISTORY OF THE CHURCH OF ST. HELEN. (fn. 1)
1. The early History of this Church has unfortunately perished
in the lapse of time; nor can any authentic record of the
actual building of any part be obtained. The style of portions
of the architecture, however, and the mention of it in various
documents afford proof of its existence in the 13th century.
No remains appear of earlier date than this, and its previous
history is almost entirely matter of conjecture.
2. The fact of its dedication to St. Helen would give reasonable grounds for supposing the original Building to have been
one of those Memorial Churches, erected by Constantine (the
first Roman Emperor who professed Christianity) in honour of
his mother, Helena, in the colony and city of Londinium, at
that time under the Roman sway. (fn. 2)
3. That a Church must have been in existence previously to
the year 1010, appears from a circumstance recorded, that in this
year the remains of King Edmond the Martyr were removed
from St. Edmondsbury, and deposited herein for three years,
until the depredations by the Danes had ceased.
4. The next mention, although without date, appears in an
agreement, whereby the Church was granted by the Canons of
St. Paul's to one Ranulph, and Robert his son, for their natural
lives, on the payment of xiid. yearly; then at their death, to a
third party, to be chosen by them, on the payment of duos sol.
per annum, and afterwards to revert to the Dean and Chapter.
5. In the year 1181, we find mention made of it in a list of
Manors and Churches, belonging to the Chapter of St. Paul's;
wherein it is stated, that the Church of St. Helen is the property of the Canons:—"et redit eis xx sol. per manum magistri
Cipriani solvit Synodalia xiid, Archidiaconi xiid, habet cœmeterium."
6. The foundation of the Priory of St. Helen was laid about
the year 1212, in the latter part of the reign of King John.
The records state that the Dean of St. Paul's, Alardus de
Burnham (who died 1216), gave permission to William, the son
of William the Goldsmith, (fn. 3) to found a Convent for Nuns of the
Benedictine Order; reserving the Church for all ecclesiastical
purposes. Previously to this there was probably no building
where the Nuns' Quire now stands: this addition for the accommodation of the sisterhood must have been made in 1308.
7. William de Basing, Sheriff of London, in the year 1308
appears to have been a liberal benefactor to the Convent, by
increasing the revenue and erecting additional buildings.
8. A manuscript in the Hatton Library contains the rules of
the Monastery. They are dated from the Chapter House of
St. Paul's, June 21, 1439, temp. Henry VI.: these, together
with a list of the Conventual Buildings at the time of suppression in 1534, will be found in Dugdale's Monasticon, Wilkinson's
Londina Illustrata, and Malcolm's Londinium Redivivum.
9. In the Rules for the guidance of the Sisterhood, it was
ordered, "That there be a doore at the nonnes' quere; that
noone straungers may looke on them, nor they on straungers
wanne thei bene at dyvyne service."
10. In the North Wall, the Hagioscope, or opening by which
the Nuns obtained a view of the high altar from the cloisters,
under the Refectory, still remains: this cloister ran northward,
and has long since been removed, but a doorway still remains,
by which access was obtained from the cloister to the Church.
It is now bricked up, and, until the last restoration, was half
buried in an accumulation of earth. The level of the sill is
the same as that of the small door leading to the roof over the
Chapel of the Holy Ghost, clearly proving that the level of the
Church was at one time three feet below the present floor.
11. The close connection of the Priory with the Church to
which it was annexed, necessarily gave the Church those
peculiar features which make it differ so widely from others;
viz., two parallel naves or choirs, 122 feet long; the northern,
or Nuns' choir being 26 feet 7 inches wide within the walls;
and the southern, or Church, 24 feet. This latter was, and still
is retained for the services of the Parish Church; while the
northern, from which it was divided by a screen, was not so
used until after the dissolution of Monasteries.
12. On the south side of the church is a transept of the early
English period, opening out of which, by means of two arches
supported on elegant clustered columns, are the chapels of the
Holy Ghost and that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the latter was
built up to form a vestry (probably by Inigo Jones, in 1631).
Both these chantries were founded by Adam Fraunces (temp.
Richard I.) Up to the time of the Suppression, two priests
did duty here, for which they received the sum of 13l. 13s. 4d.
13. Like most ancient buildings, St. Helen's is a compound of
several styles of architecture, denoting the several periods in
which it was built. In the second pointed arch from the East
end, dividing the Nuns' Quire from the Nave, and some remains
in the Chauntry, as also the doors before referred to, we may
trace the oldest existing portions, being, as before stated, of the
13th Century. The general features of the Church are to be
attributed to a later date; and would either be about the time
of Dean Kentwode, in 1430, or probably soon after the death of
Sir John Crosby, in 1475, as he bequeathed at his death the
sum of five hundred marks to the Parish, for the repair of the
Church: a sum sufficient to have induced other worthy and
wealthy citizens to come forward and assist, according to their
means, in a thorough repair, amounting almost to rebuilding.
It is therefore to this period that we must attribute the introduction of the clustered columns, four centred arches, and low
roof, which constitute the main features of the building.
14. In the Church, at this time, there appears to have been a
representation of the Holy Trinity, and a High Altar of St.
Helen; as we find Ralph Machin, in 1488, desires his body to be
buried in the Monastery of St. Helen's, before the Trinity; and
after sundry other bequests, he adds, "To the High Altar of
St. Ellen, a fine diaper tabell cloath."
15. After the suppression of the Monastery, (fn. 5) in 1537, the Conventual Buildings passed into the hands of the Worshipful
Company of Leathersellers, who after repairing, used the Refectory as their common Hall for many years, until this portion
was demolished in 1799, and all vestige of antiquity destroyed.
Wilkinson who records the fact, and gives a plan and view of
the Buildings, states that the door leading from the Cloister to
the Fratre was peculiarly elegant; the upper part being filled
with roses carved in stone, and coloured in scarlet and gilt.
The site of the Convent is now occupied by St. Helen's Place.
16. It is much to be regretted that Sir Thomas Gresham, who
died in 1579, and whose body now lies in the Nuns' Quire, did
not leave sufficient instructions to the Mercers' Company, his
trustees, to carry out his intentions of erecting a tower or spire,
instead of the unsightly turret which now exists at the west
end, in consideration of the ground in the Church, which his
17. In the year 1631, the Church, having again fallen into
decay, was repaired by contributions from the Company and
others. (fn. 6) The works were completed in 1663, as this date still
remains over the south door with: "Thomas Aldridge and
William Hunt, Church Wardens." That these repairs were
carried out with no niggard hand, we may well believe, as no
less than 1,300l. was expended on the Building: a considerable
sum at that time. It is to this date that we may attribute the
porch doors, the altar piece, (fn. 7) and communion rails; works which
are said to have been executed under the superintendence of
the most celebrated Architect at that time—Inigo Jones.
18. At this time the great Bell was recast; for which there
appears in the Parish Books an entry of 7l. 6s. 0d. for changing
the great Bell, and new matterells.
19. In 1644 the following entry is to be found: "paid a
carver for defacing the superstitious inscriptions, 1l. 2s. 0d."
20. This was one of the few churches that escaped the Great
Fire of London, in 1666, when no less than 87 were destroyed.
21. In a Vestry Meeting held in 1696, it was agreed that Sir
Christopher Wren be consulted as to the repairs of the Church,
and that Parliament be petitioned for an Act to authorize the
repair: a rate of 6d. in the pound was afterwards made. At
this time the Bell Turret was erected: previously to this, the
bells continued to hang over the gateway entrance, and when
this house was relet on a term of 61 years to a Mr. Armstrong,
on a fine of 100l. and 10s. per annum, he covenanted to remove
the bells, wheels, and ropes in the belfry, and deliver them safe
and sound in the parish church, at his own cost and charges.
Three of the bells delivered in to the church by Mr. Armstrong,
were ordered to be sold; and the best of the four to be kept
for the use of the church.
22. In 1723, Francis Bancroft, one of the officers of the Corporation, gave 95l. for the ground whereon his monument now
stands, and constituted the Drapers' Company his trustees, with
funds for keeping his tomb in repair, in addition to other trusts.
23. In 1744 a gallery was built by subscription; one Thomas
Griffin undertaking to build an organ of the value of 500l., in
consideration of the receipt of 250l., and 25l. per annum during
his life, and to play himself, or provide a substitute.
24. In 1809, considerable necessary repairs were made to the
church, when the present slated roof was substituted for the
old one; these repairs cost the parish 2,944l.
25. In 1841, the roof being again defective, it was covered
with Bangor slates, under the direction of William Tite, Esq.,
Architect; and in 1863, by order of the vestry, the foundations and walls were further protected, by the introduction of
dry areas round the building.
26. From the preceding statement it will be seen that various
sums had from time to time been expended for substantial
repairs of the fabric, and which, judging from their magnitude,
should have afforded but little scope for the labours of the
Restoration Committee of 1867. Such, however, was not the
case, and a description truthfully depicting the sad state of
the Church would at the present time (1874) be regarded as
apocryphal. The plaster walls, smoke-begrimed and saturated with damp, had in many places given way; the decayed
timbers of the roof had been mended with brown paper,
painted to resemble wood—in one of the columns of the nave
arcade no less than 17 incisions had been made;—the two
westernmost bays were separated from the body of the Church
by a clumsy, deep gallery containing the organ, many of the
windows had lost their tracery, and the floor of the Church
was so honeycombed with vaults that it forms a matter for
wonderment that the whole held together as it did.
27. To remedy this state of things a Committee, consisting of
parishioners and other gentlemen (including the then Master
of the Merchant Taylors' Company, Mr. Foster White) interested in preserving the fabric from becoming a thorough
ruin, was formed, and subscriptions for that purpose were
publicly solicited, and although the by no means inconsiderable sum of 1,400l. was through their instrumentality
collected, apart from the many stained glass windows that
were introduced, yet this sum was totally inadequate to meet
the requirements of such a heavy work; then it was that the
parishioners came forward, and by means of a rate collected
upwards of 2,000l. to meet the deficiency.
28. To the labours of this Committee may be attributed the
following works:—The removal of the organ gallery and
screen, and of Sir John Spencer's (fn. 8) monument (A.D. 1609) from
south transept to the east side of the parochial nave, the substitution of the present oak benches in lieu of the previous
high pews, the reparation of the carved miserere seats, and
their adaptation for the use of the quire, the removal of the
accumulated earth in the transept and Chapel of the Holy
Ghost, thereby opening out the bases of the pillars and tomb
of Sir John Crosbie, the repaving the Chancel and parochial
nave with encaustic tiles, reroofing one-half of the nun's quire,
together with the erection of a reredos and the organ.
29. Works of as great utility as these just enumerated and
undertaken by the parishioners were the filling in and hermetically closing the large vaults which existed throughout the
building, and the thorough repair of such portions of the
roofs as the Restoration Committee had been unable to accomplish, and also providing the apparatus for warming the Church.
30. The numerous stained glass windows must not be passed
by without mention, in that they add materially to the beauty
of the Church. The names of the donors are appended to
this sketch. Other windows there are which require to be
filled in a similar manner; and here it may not be amiss to reply
to the criticisms which have been made by archæologists and
others, as to the texture and deep tones of some of the modern
glass, whilst admitting that glass of a lighter texture, and
approaching the "cinquo-cento" period, would be more in
accordance with the style of the architecture of the building,
and certainly more conducive to the transmission of the light
so requisite in a city church, that the fact ought not to be
overlooked that, as the pious gifts of individuals, it is frequently
impossible to attempt interference with the cherished project of
the donor. Could it have been foreseen by the Committee that
so many costly gifts would have been subsequently added, a
scheme embracing a regular iconographic series might have
been prepared for that purpose.
31. In addition to contributions to the Restoration Fund
several of the City Companies have with their characteristic
liberality undertaken the renovation of the monuments of their
predecessors; the worshipful Company of Grocers have rescued
from decay the beautiful tomb of Sir John and Lady Crosbie; the
Mercer's Company, that of Sir T. Gresham; the Haberdashers,
that of Captain Bond; and the Skinners, the quaint little tablet
to the memory of the founder of Tonbridge Grammar School,
Sir Andrew Judd.
32. Such is the history (in outline) of the church of St.
Helen's, until it became, under the Order in Council of 5th May
1873, the church of the united parishes of St. Helen's and St.
Martin's. Under the scheme for union, the glass of the east
window of St. Martin's was removed to and placed partly in the
window of the newly discovered Lady Chapel, and in the
eastern dormer windows of the south transept of St. Helen's.
All the monuments (fn. 9) were also removed thither; then as far as
possible restored and replaced in St. Helen's, in sites shown
on the ground plan of the church. The names connected with
these monuments are as under:—
John Oteswich and wife, cir. 1400; Hugh Pemberton
cir. 1500; cir. Richard Staper, cir. 1608; Langham, cir. 1694;
Clutterbuck, cir. 1697; Goodman, cir. 1714; Teasdale, cir. 1804;
Edwards, cir. 1810; Simpson, cir. 1827; Rose, cir. 1821; Grant,
cir. 1836; Ellis, cir. 1838; Atkinson, cir. 1847; Simpson, cir. 1849.
John Bruex, 1459, and Nicholas Wotton, 1483, being the brass
effigies of two rectors on a gravestone; Thomas Wight, 1633, a
brass plate on a gravestone; Tufnel, 1686, a large gravestone.
33. The annual value of St. Helen's will be 800l. and Easter
offerings, and the patronage of the united benefice is vested in
the Company by Part III., sec. 3, which enabled the Master
and Wardens as patrons to restore, as was much deserved, the
Lady Chapel and that of the Holy Ghost. During the restora-
tion, the vestry room, which had filled up the entire Lady
Chapel, was pulled down, and there were brought to light two
early perpendicular windows, temp. Richard I., several elegant
niches, piscurias, sedilia, &c., all of which have been carefully
The monumental effigies of John Otewich and his wife (A.D.
1400 to 1428), being first cleansed and revived by Mr. Poole,
have been placed upon a plain and simple table, between the
two east Chapels, i.e., the Lady Chapel and that of the Holy
Plan of the church of St. Helen and St. Martin, Bishopsgate
34. The accession of these monumental effigies and tablets
from the neighbouring Church of St. Martin Outwich, will further
enhance the quaint but solemn dignity of the fabric, rendering
it still more worthy of its rightly-accorded title of "the Westminster Abbey of the East."
|A.—In the parochial nave, east, consisting of 7 lights with traceried head:
"The Ascension" (fn. 10) ||Kirkman Daniel and James Stewart
Hodgson, Esqs., in memory of their
late father, John Hodgson, Esq.|
|B.—In the chapel of the Holy Ghost,
three lights (fn. 10) ||Made up of ancient glass preserved from
the other windows, at the expense of
Churchwardens Rolfe and Richardson.|
|C.—Three lights in the Lady Chapel:
"The Conversion of Constantine" (fn. 10) ||The Merchant Taylors' Company.|
|D. and E.—The upper part filled with
Emblematical Glass. (fn. 10) |
|F.—A window of 3 lights||William Jones, Esq.|
|G.—In south aisle adjoining pulpit, 3
lights: "St. Alban, St. Michael, and
St. Edmund" (fn. 11) ||Mr. Alderman Colonel Wilson.|
|H.—In the same aisle over the south
door, 3 half lights: "Christ's Charge
to St. Peter" (fn. 11) ||Messrs. MacDougall.|
|I.—In south aisle, by Sir John Spencer's
monument, 3 lights: "The Finding
of the Cross by St. Helena" (fn. 11) ||William Meade Williams, Esq., in memory
of his late father and mother, John and
|J.—In parochial nave, west, 5 lights:
"The Crucifixion" (fn. 11) ||Subscription window in memory of Alderman Copeland, M.P., &c.|
|K.—In north-west corner of the Nuns'
Quire, single lancet: "A Bishop in
Pontificals"||J. F. Wadmore, Esq., in memory of Bishop
|L.—In north aisle, 3 lights: "Faith,
Hope, and Charity" (fn. 11) ||Messrs. MacDougall.|
|M.—Abbess' window, of 2 lights, north
wall of Nuns' Quire; "Christ healing
the lame man, and Receiving little
Children" (fn. 11) ||Dr. Cox, in memory of 3 of his children.|
|N.—In Nuns' Quire, 5 lights and traceried head: "St. Helena," flanked by
three of the Evangelists and their
symbols (fn. 12) ||The Gresham Committee, in memory of
Sir Thomas Gresham.|