The Records of St. Bartholomew's Priory and St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield: Volume 2. Originally published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1921.
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CHAPTER I - ARCHITECTURE
The Ground Plan
Rahere planned his church on a grand scale to extend into Smithfield. With the completion of the nave in the thirteenth century the external length of the church, including the Lady Chapel, was about 310 ft., and after the rebuilding of the Lady Chapel in the fourteenth century about 349 ft. It was therefore at that period longer than the cathedrals of Chester (345 ft.), Bristol (325 ft.), or Rochester (320 ft.). The external width of the quire, with its aisles, was 66 ft., that of the nave with its aisles about the same, and that across the transepts, as far as can be ascertained, 149 ft.
The internal height to-day is 53 ft. to the under side of the ridge of the roof, but the church, at any rate in the twelfth century, was probably ceiled with a flat wooden ceiling, as at Peterborough and Waltham, and as it still is at the crossing at St. Bartholomew's. Corbel courses, which it is likely supported this ceiling, still exist on the walls above the east and west arches of the crossing, and there is a string on the quire side of its east arch. The apparent internal height of the church, therefore, was probably only 47 ft. from the floor of the quire.
The east end had an apsidal termination, as at St. John's Chapel in the Tower, and as at Norwich, Peterborough, Gloucester, and many other large churches of the time. It was encircled by a vaulted processional ambulatory, from which opened three radiating external chapels, as at Norwich and elsewhere, with this exception, that there were two bays between these chapels instead of one, as was the usual arrangement. St. Bartholomew's was one of the last great twelfth-century churches to be built on this ambulatory plan. (fn. 1)
Excavations carried out in 1911 showed that Rahere's eastern or Lady Chapel was rectangular with indications of an apsidal end. The chapel was taken down in the fourteenth century to make way for the present and much larger building.
The south ambulatory chapel, and by assumption, therefore, that on the north side also, was planned with two apses, one at the side and one at the east end, on somewhat the same lines as at Norwich, a church which may have inspired the interesting ground plan of St. Bartholomew's.
The apse of the quire was divided into seven bays, as at St. Augustine's, Canterbury, and as also, possibly, at Lewes Priory. The rest of the quire was built with four bays, as at St. Augustine's, Norwich and Peterborough. The compound piers between the third and fourth bays are an unusual feature and may mark the limit of the portion first built, or be a deviation from the original plan to give greater abutment to the arches of the crossing.
The presbytery occupied the three bays westward of the apse, the presbytery step (gradus presbyterii) coming between the third and fourth bays, but with the peculiarity that it was in the twelfth century a step down instead of a step up. (At Chester there is a step down, but it comes at the position of the rood screen west of the quire.)
The fourth bay was the commencement of the monastic or ritual quire, which extended westward beyond the crossing and occupied the easternmost bay of the nave, thus being conterminous with the parish church of to-day.
This ritual quire was enclosed, as usual, by screens on three sides against which the canons' stalls were placed. It would have been entered by the convent on ordinary days by the side doors in the east end of the screen, which doors were in the bay referred to above as the west bay. This bay was next to the transept. It differed from those of the presbytery in measuring, from column to column, only 8 ft. instead of 9 ft. It was a usual arrangement for the arch of this bay to be narrower than the others; it is very marked at Dore Abbey. These doors were known as the upper entries or introitus superiores. On the occasion of the Sunday procession and on the great festivals the quire was entered by the central door in the west screen or pulpitum, known as the lower entry or introitus inferior. (fn. 2)
The church was planned for a central tower. The seal (pl. XIII, Vol. I, p. 318) struck by Rahere suggests that there might also have been flanking towers at the west and stair turrets at the east end of the church. There is some evidence in favour of the former, both documentary and otherwise; but not of any stair turrets, the angles formed by the junction of the Lady Chapel with the church, where the turrets would have been, having been taken down at the rebuilding and widening of the Lady Chapel in 1335.
The nave, which had north and south aisles, consisted of ten bays, as has been proved by excavations. Some of the bases of the vaulting shafts remain against a large fragment of the south wall of the south aisle. The fourth bay from the east measures on plan 17 ft., whilst the others only measure 15 ft. 6 in., the reason for which is not apparent.
It is fair to assume that the church presented a bold western façade to Smithfield, though there is not room, at any rate on the north side between the church and the ancient entrance to Cloth Fair, for western transepts. All that remains of the west front is the Smithfield gate with a portion of the wall to the south on which is a fragment of a mural arcade, like that on the north-west front of Dunstable Priory (pl. XXIV, p. 18).
The transepts were aisleless and projected north and south from the crossing, the length of the south transept being 40 ft. from the quire aisle wall. We may safely assume that the north transept extended about the same distance northward, for in 1843 glazed tiles were found on the site in Cloth Fair. (fn. 3) Malcolm and others (pl. XLIV, p. 53) show on the east wall of the south transept the arched opening for an eastern apsidal chapel, and we may assume that Rahere planned a similar chapel in the north transept, as was customary in monastic churches of the period. Such a chapel still remains in the north transept of Norwich, the south transept of Christchurch (Hants), and (the foundations only) at Lindisfarne.
It is probable that the parish altar stood in this eastern chapel in the north transept, and that the chapel was extended eastward in the fourteenth century to form Roger Walden's All Saints' Chapel, which was also called the parish chapel. The chapel in the south transept was also extended eastward in the fourteenth century, to form the sacristy. It is probable that the parish chapel was placed in the north transept so that it could be approached directly from Smithfield by way of Cloth Fair, similar to the arrangement at Tewkesbury.
The ambulatory of the quire, which gave access to the three external chapels, measures 12 ft. 6 in. to 12 ft. in width. It is vaulted, and the space between the pilasters (from centre to centre) which carry the vault arches is 15 ft. 6 in. wide on the inner face of the outer wall in the first bay, and 12 ft. 9 in. in the others. The eastern or Lady Chapel opened originally from the central bay, the entrance probably being the whole width between the pilasters. Internally it would, if apsidal, have measured, according to the recent excavations, 12 ft. 6 in. in width and 23 ft. 6 in. in length; or 17 ft. if rectangular.
The side chapel on the north side opened from the eleventh bay of the ambulatory, that on the south from the fifth bay. (fn. 4) The entrance to the chapels is not the full width of the bay, measuring only 6 ft. 9 in. This left in the twelfth century two bays between the side chapels and the Lady Chapel. The dimensions of the south chapel are 19 ft. 6 in. from east to west and 14 ft. from north to south, and we may assume that those of the north, or St. Bartholomew's Chapel, were similar. The plan of the eastern end of the church was remodelled at the commencement of the fifteenth century: the five eastern bays of the apse were cut off by a straight wall and a square end was formed, as more fully described later on. (fn. 5)
The only other alteration in the plan was made by Prior Bolton early in the sixteenth century. He pulled down the segmental east end of the south ambulatory and built a square end in its place, on the south side of which he placed a door for entrance to the new prior's house (pl. LXVIII, p. 131).
The Superstructure and Dates.
As regards dates, the church stands in London midway between St. John's Chapel in the Tower (1078) and the Temple Church (1185). The eastern portion was commenced by Rahere in 1123; the westernmost bay of the quire, the easternmost bay of the nave, the transepts and crossing were built by his successor Thomas (1144–1174) from about 1146 to 1160; the nave from about 1230 to 1240.
As regards style, the church is marked by having a ground arcade, triforium, and clerestory of about equal heights; in marked contrast with the great churches of Gloucester and Tewkesbury in the west, and of Durham in the north, with their lofty ground arcades and small triforia. It cannot be compared with many other London twelfthcentury churches, as after the Great Fire of 1666 there were only left of that period St. John's Chapel in the Tower, the Temple Church, the crypt of Bow Church, and that of St. John's, Clerkenwell. St. Bartholomew's has much in common with the earlier church of St. John in the Tower, and it may be compared with the naves of Norwich, Peterborough, Rochester, and Southwell, which were being built about the same time as the quire of St. Bartholomew's, though the cathedral church of Kirkwall in the Orkneys has probably more points of resemblance to it than any other church in Britain.
St. John's in the Tower was built by Gundulph, the Norman, whom Rahere probably met at King Henry's court, for Gundulph did not die until 1108. Rahere followed Gundulph's eastern apse with its stilted arches and short massive piers, but he discarded the wide cushioned capitals and the Tau cross for the newer scalloped capitals of his time. He followed, which is rather surprising, the unmoulded soffits of the arches of the ground arcade (see pl. XXIII, p. 17), though moulded soffits had already been introduced at Durham, Christchurch, and Romsey, and were being used at Peterborough and Gloucester, then in process of building. Rahere even followed the simple groin of the aisle vault of the ambulatory of St. John's, with certain modifications, though ribbed vaulting had been adopted at Durham as early as 1093–1099, and at Tewkesbury (1102–1123 (see pl. XXXV, p. 29). But he introduced a second order and billet mould into his arches, not found at St. John's, both marked characteristics of the first quarter of the twelfth century in England.
A flat ceiling to the quire was probably used instead of a barrel vault as at St. John's, and a clerestory was added, though not necessarily in Rahere's time. A glance at Gundulph's chapel shows to how great an extent it inspired Rahere's church.
Rahere's triforium is, of course, quite different from the lighted vaulted gallery at St. John's, but even here there is every reason to believe, as will be seen later on, (fn. 6) that Rahere or his architectural advisers reverted to older types and adopted an open triforium arcade as at St. Albans, Norwich, St. Botolph's, Colchester, Lindisfarne, Carlisle, Southwell, the quire of St. John's, Chester, Wymondham, Binham, and Castle Acre, making no provision for a lesser arcade.
As regards dates, it is safe to assume that Rahere built the apse, three bays of the quire, the ambulatories, the three radiating chapels, the triforium (without the filling), and perhaps the clerestory. The work probably commenced immediately or soon after the ceremony of founding, which took place in the month of March 1123, and went on until 1133, when the first charter of privileges was granted by the king. Whether the work went on during the second ten years of Rahere's priorate until 1143, when he died, we have no evidence, But we have seen (fn. 7) that troubles arose in the convent, and that Rahere, after the grant of privileges, was too infirm to undertake the journey to Rome to obtain like protection from the pope. It is, therefore, more likely that Rahere stopped the work about the year 1133, and that he then built a temporary wall (or boarded up) at the western end. There is an indication of this on the south side of the quire, where there is a curious set-back of 2½ in. on the face of the compound pier (see pl. XVII, p. 9; pl. XXII, p. 16). It extends from the floor level to above that of the triforium. This set-back may indicate the position of such a temporary wall, and be explained by an error in the setting out of the continuation of the work while the temporary wall was still in place, such as occurred in the ridge of the roof at Worcester and in the small triforium arcade on the north side of the nave at Exeter. There is a further indication of the work having been stopped at this point in the change of floor level, which occurs in the base of the compound piers both on the north and on the south side of the quire, the western half of the inner face in each case being at a higher level than the eastern. The fact that the Norman buttress outside the south aisle wall is placed in the position for a bay equal to those farther east, and not for a bay with a wide compound pier, points to there having been not only a stoppage of the work but also possibly a change in design at the same time. (fn. 8)
There is abundant evidence that the crossing was not built in Rahere's time. In the 'Book of the Foundation' it is recorded, in connexion with his successor Thomas: 'In his time the plant of this apostolic vine grew in glory . . . and the curtains of our tabernacles were extended with more ample building.' (fn. 9) The fact that a settlement, which is still evident, occurred in the west bay on the north side of the quire, is an indication that it was not built at the same time as that to the east of it. There is evidence also in the work itself. Thus the east and west arches of the crossing, though round-headed, have ribbed soffits with the horizontal chevron ornament (see pl. XVI). The north and south arches are pointed and (as is shown later) were so from the first. The piers of the crossing are divided into slender shafts, the capitals of those at the south-west corner having the pellet ornament. The eastern arch is supported by similar slender shafts but treated as corbels, as in the aisles at Kirkstall Abbey (1152). An interrupted zigzag ornament is carried over the arch and down the sides of the mural arcades which occur in the angles of the spandrels of the arches of the crossing (see pl. XXXIX a, p. 44).
That the south transept was built at the same period is shown by a similar interrupted zigzag appearing on an arch of the triforium (pl. XX b, p. 12), and by the character of the work shown in old prints of the transept before its final destruction in 1830 (see pl. XLIV, p. 53). There is not sufficient old work in the north transept to indicate precisely its date, but there is a small base of a shaft in a recess in the east wall which was probably an entrance to a spiral stair to the triforium, and may date from about 1150; but the inference from the passage in the 'Book of the Foundation' already referred to is that it was built before 1148. (fn. 10)
That the existing bay of the nave was also built at this time is shown by the billet round the triforium arch being pierced by a stone thread. The Corinthian-like capitals to the shafts supporting the arch are also highly characteristic of this period.
That there was a twelfth-century clerestory is shown by the strings left on the bay next the crossing which indicate triple-arched clerestory windows, as at Christ Church, Oxford, and as this Norman wall sets out on the south side above the recessed south-west bay of the quire, it suggests that all the twelfth-century clerestory may have been built by Prior Thomas, though it does not prove it.
If Rahere's work stopped with the third bay of the quire, it is possible that he did not contemplate a fourth bay and intended the portions of the compound piers built by him to be incorporated in the eastern piers of the crossing. But be that as it may, his successor, we assume, being faced with the responsibility of making provision for building the tower, decided to build the present fourth bay of a particularly massive character to act as an abutment for the north and south tower arches on the east side. That he adopted a similar expedient on the west is shown by the compound pier that remains on the north side built up in the present west wall.
Whether Prior Thomas himself undertook the building of a tower over the crossing there is no evidence to show. (fn. 11) At any rate, it seems established that, having completed the monastic quire by building the easternmost bay of the nave, he turned his attention to the monastic buildings, commencing with the cloister and the chapter-house; for the shaft on the jamb on the south side of the round-headed arch that leads from the church into the east walk of the cloister, whilst it has a capital with the scallop ornament, has a base of transition character suggesting a date of about 1160 (pl. LXIX, p. 132). There are also fragments from the chapter-house, now preserved in the cloister, of about the same date.
It is probable that this prior, after finishing the erection of such of the monastic buildings as he deemed necessary, commenced the nave by building one or possibly two bays, because a certain amount of late transition twelfth-century work has been found from time to time which cannot be assigned to any other position than to that of the nave. Thus there are three late twelfth-century capitals, now preserved in the north triforium, which were found in 1864, in the remains of the stone screen under the south arch of the crossing. (fn. 12)
There is also preserved in a glass case in the cloister a portion of the springing of two arches of a lesser triforium arcade and some other fragments beautifully undercut, suggesting a date of about 1170 (pl. LXVI, p. 128; pl. LXVII, p. 129). There may also be seen embedded in the thirteenth-century shaft on the north side of the south aisle a portion of a twelfth-century capital, showing that, when the thirteenth-century nave was built, some twelfth-century work was taken down. In the triforium of the only remaining bay of the nave, there exists, both on the north and on the south sides of the church, the springing of another triforium arch westward, which, however, does not prove more than that there was an intention to continue the nave in the same style.
The nave was finally built between the years 1230 and 1240, from the western end of the conventual quire into Smithfield. This thirteenth-century work was, as it were, dovetailed into the twelfth-century bay of the nave which was within the conventual quire. For the new aisles with their high vaulting were carried into the old bay by taking down the old vaulting; and, whilst retaining the Norman piers of the main arcade, the slender Early English shafts were inserted and built against the piers and aisle walls to carry the new vaulting (pl. XVIII, pl. LIV, p. 106). The twelfth-century triforium arches were left, but, as the high vault of the new aisle penetrated the floor of the triforium and protruded into it to half its height, the lesser arcade of the triforium was taken down and a plain filling substituted to mask the intruding vault. In this plain filling was inserted apparently, at a later date, a narrow doorway leading on to the quire screen or pulpitum, and from this door stone steps led up to the higher level of the new aisle vault (pl. XIX b, p. 11). In the clerestory the dovetailing process was continued. Prior Thomas's windows were removed, leaving only the east jamb, and Early English windows were inserted in their place. By this means the nave was made, on the clerestory level, to appear uniform throughout from Smithfield to the crossing.
The clerestory windows, which still exist, both in the north and south walls, indicate the date of the building of the nave as about the year 1230. Their construction is that of very early bar tracery (pl. XXV b, p. 19). There are two lights separated by a plain chamfered mullion, the space between the heads of the lights being pierced with a simple circular chamfered opening, which is cut out of large slabs of stone and not built up of carved bars. The other remains of the nave harmonize with this date. Of the two Early English piers on either side of the south aisle, one consists of a plain triple clustered shaft with a foliated capital; the other is a similar mural shaft but with a plain moulded capital encircled midway by a band. The capital and base of a similar mural shaft remain on the south-east side of the Smithfield gate, and there are bases of three others on the remains of the south wall in the graveyard. The Smithfield gate, which was the south-west portal, is ornamented with the dog-tooth which was still in vogue at that time (pl. XXIV b, p. 18).
After the building of the nave alterations commenced. The eastern chapel of the south transept, as seen above, was rebuilt as a sacristy, but there are no remains to indicate its date other than the doorway from the first bay of the ambulatory (pl. XLVI b, p. 58); it dates from some time—probably early—in the thirteenth century. There were bequests made by will in the years 1307 and 1314, for the maintenance of the works of the church, which may refer to this building. (fn. 13) It was destroyed by fire in 1830.
The Lady Chapel, as is recorded in a will, (fn. 14) was rebuilt in 1335, which was the middle of the Decorated period. The bases of the responds at the entrance to the chapel (pl. LII, p. 85), the western arches with corbel heads (pl. XXXIV, p. 28), the bases of the shafts on the window jambs (a circular base over an octagonal plinth) (pl. LIII a, p. 86), are all in keeping with that date. The fragments of a large Decorated window, now laid out on the floor of the north triforium, are of the same period and may have been from the east window of the Lady Chapel.
The widening of the chapel necessitated the removal of the three centre bays of the ambulatory vault and the building of new transverse arches. There are indications that these three bays were revaulted at the same time, but whether that was so is not clear. (fn. 15)
The Walden chapel on the north side of the north ambulatory seems, on the testimony of various wills referred to later on, (fn. 16) to have been built about 1396 (pl. XIX a). The arches and shafts on the jambs of the openings, which remain inserted in the twelfth-century work, are compatible with that date.
In the first few years of the fifteenth century the greatest of all the alterations made at St. Bartholomew's took place. This was the conversion of the apse of the quire into a square termination, a process which most of the greater twelfth-century churches had either gone through or were then undergoing. At Durham and Chichester the apse was simply pulled down; at Chester and Worcester the east end of the church gave place entirely to a later design; at Winchester and Gloucester a square end was substituted for the central bays only of the apse; but at St. Bartholomew's five of the seven bays were cut off, though only the two central piers were pulled down. The straight east wall of the new square end was built between the second and seventh piers of the apse, and a second wall, some 9 ft. 6 in. farther east, was built between the third and the sixth piers on the site of the demolished fourth and fifth piers (see pl. LXVIII, p. 131, and pl. LXXII, p. 136). The space enclosed between these walls may have been used as a feretory, as at Winchester, with possibly a passage over on the east side of the window connecting the north and south triforia; that is similar to the whispering gallery at Gloucester.
The presbytery floor, which had previously been one step lower than the quire, was raised at this time some 2 ft. 3 in. above the twelfth-century floor level. The presbytery included the three bays west of the apse, thus extending to the compound piers. At its eastern end it was enclosed on the north side by Rahere's monument, which extended another bay farther east than at present, joining at right angles the new straight east wall. The south side was enclosed by a straight wall against which there is believed to have been a tomb facing Rahere's, which, in the sixteenth century, was replaced by that of Sir Walter Mildmay (pl. XXIX a, p. 23).
The new east wall was probably pierced by two large traceried windows of which the inner part of the jambs next the side walls, with the shafts which carried the rear arches, still remain in situ. Much of the tracery has been found and is laid out on the north triforium floor (pl. XXV a, p. 19).
The clerestory was taken down and rebuilt at the same time. That story, therefore, ran on in a straight line at right angles to the new east wall, whilst the triforium gallery below shows the commencement of the curve of the western bay of the apse (pl. XX a). The same curve in the main arcade was not seen owing to the straight sides enclosing the presbytery.
At the time that this great change was in progress an extensive settlement in the north-east pier of the crossing had to be dealt with, which involved rebuilding the north and west arches of the crossing. Evidence of this exists in the later capitals inserted over the shafts which carry the north transept arch of the crossing (pl. XXXIX b, p. 44), in the later corbels of the west arch, and in the later base of the great north-east pier. At the same time the bell tower was rebuilt, but there are reasons for thinking that it was not rebuilt over the crossing.
There is some difficulty in fixing an exact date to these extensive alterations, but they took place either at the end of the fourteenth or beginning of the fifteenth century. Stow, in his second edition of 1603, says that the priory 'was again new built in the year 1410'. That date is too late, but he may be excused for saying that the church was 'new built' when we remember that at that time the apse, the roof, the clerestory, the tower and two arches of the crossing were all taken down and rebuilt simultaneously. In August 1409, Pope Alexander V, when granting indulgences to those who offered alms for the work, refers to the prior as having 'rebuilt the cloister, bell tower, high altar, and chapter-house'. (fn. 17) Now John Watford, the then prior, was installed in 1404, and if the pope intended to convey that it was the then prior who had done the rebuilding, the work must be referred to about the year 1405. On the other hand, if the pope did not intend to convey that the work was actually commenced and carried out by John Watford, then it is possible it was commenced earlier; because one John Royston, as early as 1387, left £20 (a considerable sum then) 'to be expended about the high altar'; (fn. 18) and there are other indications that the work may have been commenced earlier.
The remains of the work of this period, from which the date may be estimated, are the Rahere monument, the fragments of a window preserved in the north triforium, and the shafts on the east window jambs which still remain in situ. The hood moulding and window jambs of the clerestory (the tracery is modern), the capitals of the Norman shafts on the north piers, the base of the north-east pier of the crossing, and the corbels of the west arch of the same are all of this period. There are also considerable remains from the cloister and chapter-house, which the pope says were rebuilt at the same time. These remains, though suggestive of an earlier date than 1405, are not sufficiently characteristic to warrant a definite departure from the written testimony of the pope. The design of Rahere's monument certainly is of a considerably earlier date, but the design was so much in favour at that time that it continued to be used long after it was first introduced: thus at Westminster it is found in the wooden canopy over the tomb of Edward III (1377) and in the monument of Sir Bernard Brocas (1396) (which is almost a replica of Rahere's tomb, or vice versa). It is therefore safer to ascribe the date of the conversion of the east end under consideration to about the year 1405.
Prior Bolton's window, which occupies the central bay of the south triforium (pl. XXXVIII, p. 32), and his door at the eastern end of the south aisle, are Perpendicular work of the first quarter of the sixteenth century, and probably date some time before the year 1517, as in that year Bolton was exempted from paying a subsidy owing to the 'expense of rebuilding the conventual church', (fn. 19) and in the year 1513 one Walter Martyn bequeathed '£10 to the reparacions of the church'. (fn. 20)
The brick tower built over the westernmost bay of the south aisle, when the old parochial steeple was demolished, was erected in 1628 (pl. XXI a). The external brickwork of the north triforium, and the stair turret of the old boys' school-house adjoining, are probably somewhat earlier.
The two centre piers of the ground arcade of the apse, the two piers of the quire (one on either side of the sanctuary) next the apse, the half-column on the north side, the tracery of the clerestory windows and of those of the north aisle, are the work of Hayter Lewis and William Slater in 1864. The triforium and clerestory arcades of the apse and the sanctuary arch are the work of Sir Aston Webb in 1886. The style of the work in the two arcades is made to harmonize with that of the old work, but that there may be no doubt as to their being the work of one period only, slender shafts have been run from the base of the triforium to the springing of the roof. The mouldings of the centre arch of the triforium arcade are the original twelfth-century stones found during the demolition of the fifteenth-century straight east wall of the apse. The south bay and south end of the south transept were built in 1891. The entire north transept, with the exception of the arch of the north aisle, was built in 1893.
The crypt or charnel-house, beneath the Lady Chapel, was restored in 1895 (pl. LIII b, p. 86), and the Lady Chapel in 1897 (pl. LI, p. 84). The three bays of the cloister were restored in 1905 (pl. LXIX, p. 132), and the choir vestry was built on the walls of the south chapel in 1914 (pl. LXV, p. 126). All this work of the second period of the restoration is that of Sir Aston Webb.