III. THE MONASTIC BUILDINGS
Apart from the nuns' church nothing now survives of the buildings
of the Benedictine Priory, which covered a considerable area of ground
immediately to the north of the existing buildings. The eastern range,
with gardens to the east of it, was acquired by the Lcathersellers' Company
in 1543 and the buildings adapted for use as their Livery Hall. This range,
altered in the time of Elizabeth and no doubt subsequently, survived until
1799, when the whole site was cleared and the new St. Helen's Place laid
Information available as to the plan and disposition of the monastic
buildings is to be derived, mainly, from three sources: (a) a fairly detailed
survey of the buildings of the priory taken at the Dissolution (fn. 1) ; (b) plans
and drawings of the remains taken before the demolition of Leathersellers'
Hall in 1799, and (c) the excavations undertaken when the site was cleared
The survey of 1541 runs as follows:—
The late Priory of St. Elenes within the City of London.
The View and Survey ther taken xxist daye of June in the xxxiij
yeare of the raigne of our Soveraigne Lord Kinge Henrye the VIIIth by
Thos. Mildmay, one of the King's Auditors thereunto assigned.
First the cheaf entre or comminge in to the same late Priory is in
and by the street gate lying in the parishe of St. Elenes in Bysshopsgate
Streat which leadeth to a little cowrte next adjoyning to the same gate
having chambers, houses and buyldinges environning the same, out of which
cowrte there is an entre leading to an inner cowrte which on the north
side is also likewise environed with edificyons & buildings called the
Stewardes lodging with a countinge house appurteining to the same.
Item next to the same cowrte there is a faire kechinge with a
"Pastery house," larder houses & other houses of office appurteininge to
the same & at the East ende of the same kitchen & entre leadinge to the
same hall with a little parlor adjoining having under the same hall & parlour
sondrie howses of office next adjoining to the cloyster ther & one howse
called the Covent parler.
Item iij fair Chambers adjoininge to the hall whereof the one over
the entree leadinge to the cloyster thother over the Buttree & the third
over the larder.
Item from the said entre by the hall to the cloyster which cloyster
yet remaneth holly leaded & at the north side of the same cloyster a fare
long howse called the fratree.
Item at the est ende of the same cloyster a lodginge called the
Supprior's lodging with a litle gardin lieing to the same And by the same
lodginge a pare of staires leading to the Dortor at the southend whearof
ther is a litle hows wherein the evidence of the sd. hows nowe dou remayne
with all howses & lodginges under the same Dortor.
Item at the westende of the same cloyster a dore leadinge into the
miñes late Quire extending from the dore out of the churcheyarde unto
the lampe or particyon deviding the priorye from the parisshe which is
Item at the estende of the said cloyster an entre leading to a little
garden & out of the same littell garden to a faire garden called the Covent
garden contening by estimacon half an acre. And at the northend of the
said garden adore leading to an other garden called the ketchin garden &
at the west ende of the same ther is a dovehowsshe & in the same garden
a dore to a fair woodyerd with houses, particons & gardens within the
same woodyerd & tenement with a garden a stable & other the appurtenances to the same belonginge called Elizabeth Hawtes lodginge All which
premisses ben rated extendyd & valued. The Kinges Highnesse to be
discharged of the reparations of the yerely value of £6 13s. 4d.
Item one tent. there in the hold of Willm. Baker by the yeare 20s.
Item one other tent. in the hold of Jane Julian by the yeare 13s. 4d.
Item one other tent. there in the hold of Edmunde Brewer by the
yeare 13s. 4d.
Item one other tent. there in the hold of Eye Sturdye by the yeare
Item one other tent. there in the hold of Lance Harryson by the yeare
iii£ 13s. 4d.
Sum, £10 6s. 8d.
Exnd. per/by me Thomam Mildmaie, Auditor.
There is also a short inventory (fn. 2) of moveables of slightly later date
which gives some further particulars:—
Inprimis in the kechyn a dowble cestern of leade, thre dressynge
boords, a choppyng blokke, a shelffe, a covering of an oven of iron, a shelffe
boorde, a skrene.
Item yn the larder house a cupborde and twoo dressyng boordes.
Item yn the pultry house a greate cowpe.
Item yn the pastrye house fower pastyng boordes and fower bowtyng
Item yn the drye larder house twoo cupbordes with a dowble hangyng shelffe and a chyeste.
Item yn the pantry a brede bynne, fyve shelffs, a joyste for byere,
a perche to hang on table clothes.
Item yn the hall twoo portalls, a cupborde, and the sayd hall selyd
rowndeabowt with waynscotte.
Item yn the frater two standyng tables . . . frater celyd rownde
about with waynescotte.
Item yn the lowe p'lure, under the hall a portall with a lytell shelffe.
Item yn the beere celler thre joystes for beere and a chese rakke.
Item yn the chappell a closet.
Item yn the chamber over the entre a cupborde celed rownde about
Item a lodgyng nowe yn the occupyeng of Master Wate. Crumwell
two portalls of waynescotte with all the doores.
Item yn the gardeyn the same rayled rownde about, a dyall, three
rakkytes to hange clothes upon with polles.
Item a welle whele with one bukkytt and a wynche. All the glasse
and all the other portalls, doores, lokks, keyes, and boltes to theym belongyng
and all the other tymber, stones and ironwoork.
Item one cheste above yn the house for easement callyd the Jake or Jaks.
It is evident from the description in Mildmay's survey that the
normal arrangement of a Benedictine house was followed at St. Helen's,
the chief buildings being grouped in their traditional positions round the
cloister. The survey begins with the west range, containing on the ground
floor the buttery, larder, passage to the cloister, the convent parlour (fn. 3) and
various houses of office no doubt appertaining to the cellaress. On the
first floor was the hall (no doubt the Guest Hall) a little parlour (perhaps
the guests' solar) and three fair chambers, over the entry, buttery and
larder respectively. On the north of the cloister was the conventual Frater,
a large hall on the ground floor, occupying the whole length of the range
and extending to the west beyond it. The view of it in ruins given by
Wilkinson, (fn. 4) and another in the Gardner Collection show it to have been a
13th-century structure, lit by a range of lancets in the north wall, of which
four are shown as still intact. That the Frater range extended beyond the
western limit of the cloister is indicated in this view by a break in the south
wall, where the west wall of the cloister joins it, and is also clearly shown
in Ogilby and Morgan's map, where the building of the Frater appears in
block; the western part, however, was probably the kitchen or offices and
the three lancet-shaped windows in the west wall are evidently, from the
Gardner drawing, a more or less modern arrangement.
The cloister itself was a rectangle 71¼ feet north to south and
probably about 70 feet east to west. Portions of the foundations of the
arcade walls of the north, south and east were uncovered during the
excavations of 1922 and are shown on the plan. The alleys were 10 feet
wide and the arcade walls 1¾ feet thick. Near the middle of the east side
was an added buttress projecting into the garth. No trace was found of
the western arcade wall, and the foundations of the south arcade appear
to indicate that the cloister on this side was not conterminous with the west
end of the church. As, however, Ogilby and Morgan's map shows a building
on the site of the west range and closing the cloister in at this point, it must
be supposed that the overlap, if any, cannot have been more than a foot
or two in extent. The Frater was entered from the cloister by a doorway
at the end of the west walk, shown in the view of the ruins. The position
of the kitchen, mentioned in the Survey, is not certain; it may have
adjoined the west end of the Frater or the north end of the western
range or may even have formed part of the western range itself. The
eastern range is that which till 1799 formed part of Leathersellers' Hall.
According to the Survey it contained on the ground floor, the "sub-prior's"
(sub-prioress') lodging, (fn. 5) a passage to the garden appertaining to it and
various houses and lodgings and on the first floor the nuns' Dorter, with
the Muniment room at the south end of it. The existing plans and drawings
of these buildings together with the recent excavations give considerably
more information than the survey. Adjoining the church was a narrow
building (46½ feet long by 13 feet wide in the eastern part and 12 feet in
the western part), undoubtedly the sacristy. The western part was roofed
with two bays of 13th-century quadripartite vaulting with chamfered
ribs springing from moulded corbels. It was entered from the cloister by
a doorway of two recessed orders, and opened into the eastern part of the
building by an arch springing on the south from a plain respond with two
attached shafts on the east face. The eastern part of the sacristy was not
vaulted, and the roof was at a higher level. It has a plain pointed recess
in the south wall (the church wall) and east of it is a 13th-century piscina
with a shouldered head. The various openings in the wall between the
sacristy and the church will be described under that building. The whole of
the south side of the sacristy with the base of the west doorway was
uncovered in 1922, and showed that Wilkinson's plan was not accurate
in several particulars, notably in the projection of the west wall into the
cloister, which projection was non-existent.
The Chapter House adjoined this building on the north. It was
46½ feet long by 21 feet wide, and portions of the north, south and west
walls were recently uncovered. The plans and views of this building before
its demolition show that it had four bays with a ribbed quadripartite vault
of stone, three lancet-windows in the east wall and a doorway from the
cloister in the west wall having a central and two side shafts. (fn. 6)
Extending north from the Chapter House was a vaulted undercroft
(63½ feet by 26½ feet) of similar date and character to the rest of the range,
and divided into five bays in length and two in breadth by a row of octagonal
columns with moulded capitals and bases. The ribbed vault, in quadripartite bays, rested on these columns and on moulded corbels in the side
walls. The narrow second bay from the south probably formed a passage
and was entered from the cloister by a pointed doorway.
The two passages shown on Wilkinson's plan extending to the west
and south of this undercroft, were probably neither of them mediæval,
the western not according with the known position of the Frater walls
and the northern extending much too far (56 feet) to have served any
monastic purpose. (fn. 7)
The Dorter, extending over probably the whole of this range (except
the south end), was so entirely altered by being transformed into the
Leathersellers' Hall and Court Room as to leave no traces of its mediæval
features in the drawings of it that have survived. The Muniment Room,
or place where the evidences of the house were kept, must have been above
the sacristy already described. The Dorter was approached by the night
stairs (see church) from the church and by the day stairs, mentioned in the
Survey, somewhere near the east end of the Frater. Before leaving this
range, it may be mentioned that during the excavations two masses of
foundation were discovered projecting, at a slight angle, eastwards from the
Chapter House. They no doubt formed the substructure of the Elizabethan
or Jacobean building added by the Leathersellers' Company, and indeed the
massive southern foundation exactly represents in plan a chimney stack
shown on several old views of the building.
Three buildings, essential to the later monastic economy, are absent
from the list in the Survey—the Infirmary, the Rere Dorter and the lodging
of the prioress. The Infirmary is mentioned in the Kentwood Injunctions
(ante p. 8) in a way that implies that there was then no separate building
for that purpose; possibly it had been put to other uses or leased to a lay
tenant. The Rere Dorter is referred to (as the Jake or Jaks) in the Inventory
of moveables. The Infirmary should lie east of the Dorter Range, the Rere
Dorter in immediate connection with the Dorter and the lodging of the
prioress in any position dictated by local conditions.
The buildings of the outer and inner courts are also lightly touched
upon by the surveyor. The gate house in Bishopsgate Street is indeed
mentioned, but the bake and brew-houses, stables, etc., must be included
in the general terms—" Chambers, Howses and Buildings," surrounding
the courts. The gate house is undoubtedly represented by the present
entrance from Bishopsgate Street and the taking down of the old building
in 1696 has already been referred to (p. 21).