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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John Abbiss, M.A., Rector 1819–1883.
On the 24th December 1819, John Abbiss (pl. XCVI, p. 374) was instituted by William Howley, Bishop of London, to the rectory 'vacant by the resignation of J. R. Roberts, on the presentation of (his brother-in-law) William Phillips of Cavendish Square, co. Middlesex, Esquire'. (fn. 1)
He was the son of John Abbiss (Esquire) and Mary Abbiss of Wandsworth, Surrey. He entered Winchester College in 1807, (fn. 2) of which he was prefect in VIth Book in 1811 (fn. 3) and captain in 1812. (fn. 4)
He matriculated at Trinity College, Oxford (where J. R. Roberts was then a fellow), on the 17th October 1810. (fn. 5) He was an exhibitioner there from 1810 to 1813, and a scholar from 1813 to 1820. He took a second class in Lit. Hum. in 1814, and graduated M.A. in 1817. (fn. 6)
He was ordained deacon, in Salisbury Cathedral, on the 6th August 1815, (fn. 7) and priest on the 19th December 1819 (five days before his institution). It was probably after he was ordained deacon and before he was ordained priest that he made the grand tour, and other travels to which he used to refer.
He was no stranger at St. Bartholomew's at the time of his institution, for, as a deacon, he conducted a funeral here in 1816 and another in 1818, and many times towards the close of 1819. In the latter year he also preached during July, August, and October; (fn. 8) he took a wedding in the July and a christening in December (fn. 9) of the same year.
He preached his first sermon as rector two days after his induction, and he continued to preach here Sunday after Sunday for 54 years; his last sermon being on the 7th December 1873.
He very seldom allowed any one but himself and the lecturer to occupy the pulpit. It is told (fn. 10) how on one occasion Mr. W. H. Jackson (the father of the vestry clerk) had obtained a promise from Dr. Lightfoot to preach the annual sermon for the benefit of the parochial schools in the presence of the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs. Mr. Abbiss objected with the remark that he 'could not have a man like that', so the chaplain to Queen Victoria, who later became the well-known Bishop of Durham, had to be put off. Very occasionally he allowed a relative to preach, such as Mr. W. Spenser Phillips, of Trinity College, Oxford, in 1823, and Mr. J. G. Phillips, vicar of Eling, Hants, in 1829. His nephew, Mr. F. P. Phillips, preached for him in 1847 and on several subsequent occasions. Mr. Abbiss himself preached the sermon on the occasion of the death of George III.
He was very assiduous in his duties, always taking the funerals of his parishioners himself until the graveyards were closed in 1853. At first he had the assistance of Mr. Daniel Williams, who had been appointed by the vestry to the post of Lecturer in the time of Mr. O. P. Edwardes in 1804. In 1839 the vestry thanked Mr. Williams for his 35 years of service, but at the same time had to tell him that, owing to a resolution of the Parish Trustees the year before, they could not be responsible for a continuance of his salary, and that they feared very little aid would come from voluntary contributions. In 1831 they had voted him for his salary the rent of 20 guineas from the parish house, 86 Bartholomew Close, the rents of the pews and the rents from encroachments. (fn. 11) Nevertheless Williams continued to work on until he died in January 1851. The registers show that this faithful priest on two occasions brought a family of six persons each to Holy Baptism. In 1813 the family consisted of four men and two women from Bedfordshire, of ages from 25 down to 11; and in 1819 it consisted of three boys and three girls, aged from 4 to 13, from Cloth Fair. The total baptisms in those two years were eighty and seventy-two respectively.
Williams' daughter, Mary Anne, was appointed organist by the vestry in 1849 and so continued for thirteen years. She was rather deaf, and Dean Swift's remark was quoted at the time as apropos of the result—'The singers went before, the minstrels followed after'. (fn. 12)
In March 1852 the Rev. William Shulte, rector of St. Augustine's and St. Faith's, was, out of seven candidates, elected by the parishioners as evening lecturer to the church, but as neither the sanction of the rector nor the licence of the bishop could be obtained to the appointment, it fell through, (fn. 13) and on the 2nd May (1852) Rector Abbiss entered in the Preachers' Book that 'by the decision of the vestry the lecture ceased this day'.
At first Mr. Abbiss had also the assistance of a curate, Mr. David Evans in 1824, and Mr. Henry Thompson (for a short time) in 1828; but from then he apparently had no curate other than Mr. Williams until 1853. In that year Mr. T. H. Bullock took the afternoon preaching until the church was closed for restoration in 1863. At its re-opening in 1868 Mr. Squible was appointed curate; in 1872 Mr. Chartres; and in 1874 Mr. W. E. Faulkner.
Mr. Abbiss now being 83 years of age had to give up preaching and the work was carried on by curates in charge: first by Mr. G. A. Marshall until 1877; then by Mr. D. Shaboe, Mr. F. Pearce Pocock, and Mr. J. Morgan in succession until 1880, when Mr. J. Sorrell took charge until Mr. Abbiss' death in 1883. But during this time Mr. Abbiss was frequently present at the services, though too infirm to officiate.
He took an interest in the affairs of the parish and frequently attended the vestry meetings, which were at that time held once a month. But he never suffered any encroachment on his prerogatives as chairman, either at a meeting of the parish or of the vestry, and always declined thanks to the chair as he held that that position was his by right. (fn. 14)
Within eight days of his institution, viz. on the 1st January 1820,
he started a note-book (still in the parish safe) (fn. 15) 'for the information
of succeeding rectors with a view to prevent those disputes and
differences which sometimes arise from a want of a clear and distinct
understanding of their just rights'. He commenced the entries in
the book with an indignant protest against the action of the vestry
in the year 1815 (some four years before his induction) regarding the
pews; (fn. 16) he says: 'This assumption of power to grant as it were a life
interest in property to which the parish at least had not yet established their claim and of which they had not even possession is most
unjustifiable.' Illidge, however, smoothed matters over, as we have
seen, and was probably instrumental in improving the relations
between rector and vestry; for in 1826 'the churchwarden reported
(to the vestry) that at the dinner on Ascension Day an elegant silver
snuff-box, with the inscription S.B.G. was presented (by the rector)
in a very handsome manner for the use of the parish at all public
meetings' (fn. 17) and at the Easter vestry of 1830 the rector presented
from his sister Mrs. Phillips, the widow of the patron, a further gift
of a silver gilt alms dish for the church, (fn. 18) which is still in use. Moreover, on the 18th February 1828, the rector wrote the following
letter, which is entered on the vestry minutes of the 5th March 1828: (fn. 19)
'The rector presents his compliments to the vestry, having received a deputation consisting of Mr. Slade and Mr. Bell, churchwardens, and Mr. Illidge, requesting his opinion as to the most proper site for the new pulpit and reading desk, which the vestry have obligingly agreed to erect at his recommendation, he begs to suggest that the best position in which they can be placed for the advantage of the congregation is in the two pews belonging to the rector situate one on each side of the aisle (fn. 20) and opening into the church, and it is his wish, if agreeable to the vestry, that they should be placed there. The rector regrets that he was prevented from attending the meeting of the Vestry last Friday evening.
Feby. 8, 1828.'
It was thereupon 'resolved that the new pulpit and desk be erected on the site proposed by the rector without prejudice hereafter to the existing rights of the parish or the rector'.
The pulpit and reading desk above referred to may be judged by the illustration (pl. XXVIII, p. 22). It was a costly business, for on the 15th February 'a tender for new pulpit, desk, and altering of seats for £193 18s. was accepted'. (fn. 21) In addition to this, according to a receipted bill (now in the belfry cupboard) from Seddon, the local upholsterer, £43 was expended 'in crimson silk and velvet hanging deep with fringe, the tops stuffed and covered with velvet' for the pulpit and reading desk; £7 12s. in a feather pillow for the same; £37 12s. in new lining nine pews with green baize, and seven new cushions for seats; and £21 10s. for 'two pairs of gothic bronzed branches for lamps for pulpit and reading desk'.
Unfortunately, as we have seen, the real gothic pulpit itself was destroyed to make way for these two erections, which lasted but a comparatively few years before they were thrown on the scrap heap. We must not infer from this that the vestry were unmindful of the antiquity of the church and its belongings, for in 1823, at the instance of Mr. Illidge, the 700th anniversary of the founding of the Priory and Hospital was celebrated by a dinner at Canonbury House, by the joint parishes of St. Bartholomew the Great and the Less (fn. 22) (that is the hospital), on Holy Thursday in that year.
Repairs to the fabric of the church again figure largely in the history of this time, for as early as the year 1820 the surveyor reported 'the northern wall to be in present danger', and it was ordered to be immediately repaired. (fn. 23)
In 1828 it was found necessary to renew five rafters of the roof, and to secure with iron trusses the tie beams between the two great arches of the transept, which had sunk. (fn. 24) This brought the expenditure at that time, including the pulpit, &c. to £611.
But large as this expenditure was, still larger expenditure than had ever been faced before was in store, for the great fire of 1830, which found the church uninsured, entailed an expenditure of £1,000; and the great and first effort of restoration of the church, which commenced in 1863 and continued until 1868, necessitated a further expenditure of over £6,500.
It was on the 3rd May 1830 that the fire occurred which has several times been referred to when describing the parts on the south side of the church affected by it. (fn. 25) The fire seems to have originated in the timber storage beneath what was known as Bartholomew Chapel, at that time occupying the monastic chapter-house. From there it spread to the old meeting-house occupying the site of the ancient sacristy, beneath which timber also was stored, and thence to the south triforium of the church, burning Bolton's gallery, the Dissenters' charity school in the triforium, the master's rooms at the east end, the factory rooms over the east aisle, and the south chapel then used as the vestry. The effects of the fire can be still seen in the flaked shafts in the triforium, in the red burnt stones on the south wall of the exterior, especially where the sacristy stood, and the red stones in the door jambs in the south wall of the south transept and elsewhere.
The next day the vestry appointed a committee, including Illidge, to take immediate steps for the preservation of the church and churchyards, Mr. Blyth, senior, being appointed surveyor. (fn. 26) They were to find a secure place for the vestry and trustee Minute Books, Churchwardens' Accounts, and all other documents and plans which had of necessity been removed the day before from the vestry room. It was resolved to insure the church for £1,500, and to borrow £1,000 for its repair. (fn. 27)
The south wall was in a dangerous condition; so the committee, on the 25th May, resolved to shore it and to fix a temporary covering of rafters to the triforium, to board up the clerestory windows, and, the ruins of the south transept walls having fallen under the fire, to build a brick wall 10 ft. high round the green church-yard. (fn. 28) The two groins of the aisle adjoining the south chapel or vestry room had to be taken down and reinstated. (fn. 29) In the meanwhile the vestry and other meetings were held in the old boys' school-house, (fn. 30) as the groin and ceiling over the vestry were badly damaged. (fn. 31) The church was closed for six months owing to the repairs; two years before it had also been closed for three months for the same reason, and during the restoration thirty-three years later it was closed for four years.
An attempt was made by the committee to obtain possession of the land between the south transept and the south chapel. The Bishop of London was at first approached, and then Lord Kensington; but when it was found that if the ground were purchased the purchase money could not be raised by a church rate the matter fell through. (fn. 32) Subsequently, in 1834, Lord Kensington offered to sell the land for £100 as a burial ground, (fn. 33) but this offer unfortunately was not accepted on the plea that the vendor could not show a sufficient title to the land. (fn. 34) This decision promptly led to the withdrawal of the offer, accompanied by a demand to take down the posts and rails with which the site had been enclosed (fn. 35) since the fire. It is to be regretted that Lord Kensington's offer was not accepted because, although the need for an additional churchyard ceased in 1853 by Palmerston's Act which closed all burial grounds in the metropolis, the land was sorely needed to prevent houses being built against the church, a misfortune which soon followed this refusal.
The repair to the south wall of the church was again considered in 1836 but it was resolved that the matter should stand over 'until some arrangement was made respecting Lord Kensington's claim to the adjoining land'. (fn. 36) At the same time it was resolved (as has been already stated) (fn. 37) that the vestry, then in the south chapel, and the east porch be removed, the ground to be made use of as an additional burial ground. (fn. 38) Although this resolution was rescinded at the next meeting, (fn. 39) in the year 1849 the south chapel was demolished, apparently without any resolution of the vestry, to make a parochial school for the girls. (fn. 40) It has already been shown how a room encroaching upon the upper part of the south transept (fn. 41) was made to provide for the meetings of the vestry which, with the rendering of the west wall in Roman cement, cost £362. (fn. 42) The south wall, damaged by the fire, seems to have remained unrepaired until 1846, when it was faced with brick and Roman cement at a cost of £157. (fn. 43) Then the buildings known as Pope's Cottages were built against it; Cockerill's Buildings adjoining being erected at the same time. (fn. 44)
In 1856 there was trouble outside the church, for in April of that year the picturesque old 'Coach and Horses' public-house was pulled down, whereby, as has been already mentioned, (fn. 45) much evidence of the north walk of the cloister was destroyed. As Robins, the owner, also began to destroy the remains of the south wall of the nave he had to be stopped by the vestry. (fn. 46) The Commissioners of Sewers also served a notice on the owners of No. 70 Bartholomew Close, next to the 'Coach and Horses', and called upon them to take down the north-west enclosing wall of the structure abutting on the churchyard. (fn. 47) They also ordered the vestry to pull down the remainder of the nave wall, and the churchwardens were ordered by the vestry, as has been already stated, (fn. 48) to offer the stones for sale by tender.
In 1855 a fire destroyed the houses facing Smithfield next to the Smithfield gateway; in consequence the vestry ordered, in May 1856, that the gateway should be repaired, and in October Mr. Blyth's design for new gates for the front churchyard was adopted, the cost being £54. (fn. 49)
In 1840 it was decided to adopt gas for lighting the church in place of candles, so the chandeliers had to be sold. (fn. 50)
The Restoration, 1863–1868.
In 1860 repairs to the church were again necessary, but these were postponed because a wide interest in the church, and a strong feeling that a restoration was necessary were then abroad. This led to the first great effort to that end being made in 1863. (fn. 51)
As early as the year 1857 William Slater, an architect who had been chief assistant to R. C. Carpenter the elder (who died in 1855), had prepared a design for restoring the church. (fn. 52) It comprised a complete restoration of an apsidal eastern termination, and the erection of a stone vault over the present church; but this was never carried out.
On the 13th April 1859, Mr. Alfred White read a paper on the priory before the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, (fn. 53) which then visited the church.
In 1863 Mr. Joseph Boord, with Mr. W. Foster White, (fn. 54) the treasurer of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, invited Mr. T. Hayter Lewis (the architect to Boord & Beckwith of Bartholomew Close) to be the architect of the proposed restoration. Hayter Lewis, knowing what work William Slater had already done in the matter, thought it only right to ask Slater to join him in the work. There was no partnership between Lewis and Slater; Slater was in partnership with Mr. R. Herbert Carpenter, (fn. 55) to whose father, Mr. R. C. Carpenter, he had been chief assistant. (fn. 56) The latter in turn had been articled to Mr. John Blyth, the architect appointed by the vestry on the occasion of the fire of 1830; and the architect 'on whose advice the ruins spared by the fire were (unfortunately) wholly removed'. (fn. 57)
They were able to report that the fabric of the church was in a very good and substantial state of repair: that there were several settlements, particularly near the main piers of the transepts, but that these were of old date, and that the state of the stonework generally was very satisfactory.
They pointed out that the general level of the floor of the church had been raised 2 ft. 6 in. above the original level. That there were undoubted proofs of there having been an apse originally, which had been cut off in the fifteenth century; but as the present straight wall formed no part of the original church and as no remains of the Perpendicular work were of such importance as those of the Norman, and as the present wall was in a very defective condition, there was no archaeological objection to rebuilding the apse. That this, however, could not be done unless the room which had been built close to the present east wall and over the site of the apse could be acquired.
That the outer wall of the north triforium had been rebuilt, probably in the seventeenth century; that it was now used as a schoolroom, and that the southern triforium had been destroyed (by the fire of 1830).
That the clerestory windows west of the transepts retained their tracery (of the thirteenth century), but that those to the east of them, which had been rebuilt in the Perpendicular style, had lost it; the jambs, labels, &c. of these windows were almost perfect.
They reported that the south transept was destroyed beyond the line of the outer wall of the aisle; and the north transept beyond the line of the aisle arches. That the site of the south transept was occupied as a graveyard, but the transept could not be rebuilt without interfering with the light and air of the houses erected some thirty years (really only seventeen years) before, on the site of the St. Bartholomew chapel (originally the Chapter-house). That the lower part of the enclosing walls was pulled down to the ground after the fire, and that over the portion of the transept that remained was the (then) vestry room.
That the mouldings to the great arch of the south transept were perfect, also the arch over the quire aisle; but that there were only a few of the mouldings of the great arch of the north transept visible. The capitals of the Norman columns supporting this arch had been replaced by Perpendicular ones, and so had the Norman corbels under the great western arch spanning the nave. That the reason generally given for these great transept arches being pointed, whilst those of the quire and nave were round, was the desire that the tops of all the arches should range in height, but it was remarkable that the pointed arches were much stilted and that the tops of the arches did not range.
That there was nothing in the present building to show for certain that there was ever a tower over the crux, though mention was made of it in some writings (and documentary evidence left no doubt). (fn. 60)
That the part of the original church built west of the north transept (the north aisle of the nave) was occupied by No. 9 Cloth Fair. That the site of the transept itself was occupied by a smith's shop belonging to a Mr. Horley, a baker in the parish, and that the danger of the church being destroyed by fire by these encroachments was very great.
That no indications seemed to exist of the ancient roof, and that there were no remains apparent of vaulting shafts or of roof corbels.
That the west wall and the tower were modern erections of the seventeenth century. (fn. 61)
That very little remained of the nave other than the doorway into Smithfield: that the south wall existed for nearly its whole length up to the year 1856, when it was pulled down, and that no remains appeared above the ground level, which was then six feet above the ancient church level.
They reported that the site of the chapter-house (sacristy intended) was built over by Pope's Cottages; and that that of the east cloister was occupied by various buildings: that very fine remains of this cloister existed up to 1833, when they were allowed to fall owing to neglect and decay.
They also reported that the refectory and crypt (really the dorter and its undercroft) could be seen in passing through Middlesex Passage; and that there were very considerable remains of the prior's house (which the Lady Chapel was then considered to be).
The architects recommended that towards the restoration of the church the following steps should be taken:
1. To restore the ancient proportions by lowering the floor to its original level.
2. To complete the apse with the triforium, clerestory and roof.
3. To drain, warm and reseat the church, whereby many extra seats would be obtained.
4. To reconstruct the present entrances so as to put the steps outside the church and thus form a sunken area outside the building which would enable it to be drained and the floor ventilated, thereby removing the cold and dampness.
5. To remove the earth which had been filled in against the wall of the north aisle.
6. To make good any defects there might be in the foundations of the great piers of the crossing.
7. To preserve every portion of ornamental work found, in the triforium or other convenient place.
8. To move slightly westward and lower the Mildmay tomb, which was cutting very awkwardly into one of the main piers and arches on the south side of the (presbytery of the) church.
9. To clean the other monuments, nearly all of which had been painted black, and to remove to the walls of the aisles those whose insertion had injured the old work.
10. To insert tracery in the clerestory windows.
11. To remodel but retain the western gallery with the organ so as to screen the unsightly west wall.
12. To remove the vestry to the north aisle and thus open out the south transept arch.
The architects estimated that the whole of the above work, exclusive of the Mildmay tomb, could be done for under £4,000.
They also recommended—
13. To remove the earth from the two churchyards to the original church level, the coffins being reinterred at a lower level.
and next to the above—
14. To re-roof the church.
and as funds might allow—
15. To restore the triforia, and
16. To open out the north transept.
On the 27th May following (1863) a general meeting of the parishioners and others was held in the vestry to consider the proposed restoration. Mr. Abbiss being voted to the chair, it was resolved, on the motion of Mr. Joseph Boord, to make the attempt, and a committee was appointed (fn. 62) from within and from without the parish to carry out the work. (fn. 63) Mr. William Salt, F.S.A., a great Staffordshire antiquary of the firm of Stevenson, Salt & Sons, Bankers, in Lombard Street, was appointed treasurer; Mr. Wm. Cubitt, the president of St. Bartholomew's Hospital (and late Lord Mayor) was appointed chairman, Mr. Foster White vice-chairman, and Mr. Thomas Kitt, vestry clerk, honorary secretary. A subscription list was opened to which Mr. Abbiss and Mr. Joseph Boord each gave 200 guineas; Mr. Foster White (who subsequently obtained a similar sum from the Governors of the Hospital), 100 guineas; Miss Burdett Coutts, £100; the Rev. F. Parr Phillips, the patron, 50 guineas; Mr. A. C. Rippon, 61 Bartholomew Close, 50 guineas; Mr. Wm. Salt, 25 guineas; seven others 20 guineas, and so on. At a subsequent meeting Mr. A. J. B. Beresford Hope joined the committee.
On the 13th July (1863) the Rev. Thomas Hugo, the historian and an active F.S.A., gave an address on the history of the monastic establishment; Mr. J. H. Parker, the well-known writer on architecture and keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, followed with a lecture on the architecture of the building. (fn. 64) His lecture was published in the Gentleman's Magazine, (fn. 65) and Mr. Parker presented 1,500 copies of a reprint for sale for the benefit of the restoration fund.
In the meanwhile Mr. Benjamin Winstone, the freeholder of the fringe factory premises occupied by Stanborough & Graves, was approached with the view of some arrangement being come to in respect of that part of the factory which would be required for the restoration of the apse; (fn. 66) but Mr. Winstone wanted to sell the whole premises, the price being £4,000. (fn. 67) As the committee could not entertain this, counsel's opinion was taken as to the legality of the encroachment over the east aisle. Dr. Twiss's opinion was that he could not advise any legal proceedings to be taken to disembarrass the church of its encroachments. The opinion of Mr. Serjeant C. E. Petersdorff was equally unfavourable. When further negotiations were opened with Winstone it was found that he had (on the 25th January 1864) granted a further lease of the premises to Mr. James Stanborough, at a rent of £150 a year. (fn. 68)
This, and the fact that only £1,600 had then been received or promised, (fn. 69) necessitated the adoption of a modified scheme which consisted of—
1. Lowering the floor level;
2. Draining and warming the church;
3. Moving back the partition in the south transept to show the arch mouldings;
4. The same in the north transept, if possible (which it was not);
5. The removal of the earth from the church walls outside the church; and
6. The removal of the whitewash from the stonework inside, which was to be generally repaired;
7. The monuments rearranged;
the estimate being £1,800. (fn. 70)
The architects further submitted three alternatives in respect to the treatment of the east end of the church: (fn. 71)
1. Either to leave it as it then was;
2. Or to complete it on the square plan; or
3. To remove the lower part of the east wall; to carry the upper part on an arch or girder, and to complete the apse so far as the floor of the triforium, leaving the room above overhanging.
The objection to the square end in their opinion was that the effect could never be equal to that of the completed apse; that there was no evidence as to whether the east end was finished with one, two or three windows, (fn. 72) nor of the kind of tracery used, nor of the nature of the Perpendicular work below the windows, so that restoration would be merely their notion of what it was likely to have been; whereas there was clear proof as to what was actually intended by the original builders.
The third method, the restoration of the ground arcade of the apse, was eventually adopted.
Now, after eleven months, the committee were prepared to go forward, and on the 7th April 1864 the churchwardens were requested to apply for a faculty—
1. To remove bones and coffins;
2. To remove monuments;
3. To lower the pavement; and
4. To rearrange the pews.
The architects were requested to prepare drawings and to obtain tenders for the first part of the work. (fn. 73) Dove Bros.' tender of £695, being the lowest out of five, was accepted. The faculty was at first refused, but eventually granted on August 24th, St. Bartholomew's Day, 1864. (fn. 74)
In the meanwhile, on the 18th June, an influential meeting of some of the most eminent London architects of the day, acting as a consulting committee of the Incorporated Church Building Society, was held in the church. (fn. 75) Among those present were Sir Gilbert Scott, R. A., the well-known church restorer, and G. E. Street, architect of the Law Courts (both afterwards buried in the Abbey); Benjamin Ferrey, the restorer of the Lady Chapel of Wells; J. L. Pearson, the builder of Truro Cathedral; Joseph Clarke, Hayter Lewis, William Slater, and others. A lengthy inspection of the fabric was made and the conclusion was unanimously adopted to approve the plans with very slight modifications. They urged the opening and reconstruction of the Norman apse as a point of prime importance and quite practicable. They suggested chairs instead of pews for seating, and that the Mildmay monument should be moved to (its present position in) the south aisle. They considered the removal of the vestry necessary, as without it the whole of the fine piers of the transept would be lost and one of the best portions of the church concealed. They ended by presenting the fees (5 guineas), due to them by their Society for the survey, as a contribution to the restoration fund, (fn. 76) the Society itself voting £75 thereto.
By the 14th November 1864, Lewis and Slater were able to report that Dove Bros. had nearly completed their first contract. (fn. 77) The work had been tedious owing to the immense mass of bones that had been found. The quantity was so great as to occupy every vacant space that could be dug for them in the south churchyard. As their removal to a cemetery would have cost £400, a hole was sunk in the great churchyard to a depth of 15 ft. into fine dry gravel in which the bones were interred.
They were able to report also that the excavations showed that the church rested upon a bed of good clean gravel though the foundations of two piers had given way, which necessitated underpinning; (fn. 78) the cause being the formation of deep graves close to them. They had found that the holes excavated for the reception of the bones in 'Purgatory' (fn. 79) had been sunk some feet below the foundations of the Norman piers, and also below those of the heavy east wall, so that this part of the church had been in a critical state for some time.
The excavations had also shown the exact level and description of the old paving; and that there had been a row of chapels on the north side of the north aisle. (fn. 80)
The architects now recommended that a second contract be entered into: (fn. 81)
1. To remove the tablets, and make good the stone work;
2. To remove the Mildmay tomb;
3. To cover the whole church and areas with about 9 in. of concrete;
4. To excavate and drain the south side where it was abutted on to by Pope's Cottages;
5. To insert a girder in the east wall as high as the fringe factory would allow, take out the lower part of the wall, complete the piers and arches of the apse of the ground arcade; and lastly:
6. To put back the partition in the south transept.
Dove Bros. were again the lowest and their tender for £607 was accepted. (fn. 82) This was in January 1865: in May the work was reported to be going on satisfactorily, (fn. 83) but in July the parishioners began to complain because the church had been closed for a year, that is since the 31st July 1864. (fn. 84) In August, however, another contract was entered into with Dove Bros. for £445 (fn. 85) for various additional works.
On the 30th January 1866 many members of the Corporation and of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society visited the church by invitation, and Mr. Hayter Lewis communicated a paper thereon to the latter Society. (fn. 86) It is published in their transactions (fn. 87) and gives useful information of discoveries whilst the works were in progress. It states that in clearing the ground to the old level of the paving, remains were found which showed that the filling in had taken place at a later date. (fn. 88) The higher level of the door beside the founder's tomb showed merely that the sanctuary had been raised, the altar no doubt being approached by several steps. The old level he found to be much varied as shown by various jumps in the line of the plinth which possibly indicated the range of the old stall work. He found that some of the foundations had been put in on a layer of peat, although there was a bed of gravel only a foot or so below. That the wall of the north aisle was much out of the upright; but by moving it bodily (fn. 89) no damage was done to the stones.
Mr. Lewis also stated (what Withers also refers to in his diary) that when pulling down the east wall and another wall under the tower they found 'some valuable specimens of capitals and other enrichments of the Norman church; and from fillings of more recent times they obtained specimens of screen work of later date with much of the old colouring and gilding upon them'. The wall under the tower he rightly surmises 'was erected to form the back of the stall work there', as was the stone screen under the south arch of the crossing, the lower part of which was also discovered. By the 'fillings of more recent times' he must refer to the filling of the arch beside the Mildmay tomb, to which Withers also refers. No reference is made to the discovery of a portion of the base of the quire screen or pulpitum described in the Ecclesiologist. (fn. 90)
On May 26th (1866) (fn. 91) the architects were authorized to enter on still another contract for £730, towards which the Corporation contributed 200 guineas, and at the same time Sir William Tite, Mr. Abbiss, and Mr. Joseph Boord agreed to find £300 each. Another contract was also arranged with a Mr. Roper for warming the church at a cost of £200.
The committee had from the first been unfortunate in losing members by death, before the first year (1863) had expired their chairman, Mr. Cubitt, died, but they fortunately secured the services of Mr. (afterwards Sir) William Tite, (fn. 92) the builder of the Royal Exchange. In the year 1865 Mr. William Salt, their treasurer, also died; (fn. 93) he was succeeded by his brother Mr. Thomas Salt. (fn. 94) At the time we have now reached, the close of 1866, they lost their honorary secretary, Mr. Thomas Kitt, the vestry clerk, who was succeeded by Mr. W. H. Jackson, but from that time the minutes were entered by Mr. Abbiss himself.
The next meeting was in December 1866, when the architects were able to report that Dove Bros. had executed the chief part of the work, and Roper had nearly completed his warming contract.
But after this there was mismanagement somewhere because it was not until March 1868 that the church, after having remained closed for four years, was ready to be reopened. That ceremony took place on the 29th March, when a sermon was preached by the Bishop of London in aid of the Restoration Fund.
At the meeting held eight days before the reopening the rector was able to announce that Mr. Henry Vaughan, of Cumberland Terrace, Regent's Park, and Mr. Joseph Boord, had each promised £300 towards the restoration of the north transept, and that Mr. Bonnewell of Long Lane had offered £500 for a new west window for the church; but on the 27th May following the committee were called to receive the resignation of Mr. Joseph Boord, the immediate cause being a disagreement with the rector upon the trivial matter of the choice of gas standards. They were two strong men. Mr. Boord had been the principal promoter of the work, and he and the rector the largest contributors. The resignation was accepted with great regret, but the work ceased; for nothing more is recorded of the three liberal offers that had been made.
Mr. John Hilditch Evans, a parishioner of long standing, was appointed sub-treasurer in the room of Mr. Boord; (fn. 95) but there was only one more meeting, in April 1869, when the accounts were submitted by Mr. Evans, and extreme disappointment was expressed at the failure of the warming apparatus (a fruitful source of divergent views as regards other buildings than churches). It is evident from a letter addressed by the rector to Mr. J. H. Evans in 1873, (fn. 96) that there was acute difference between the former and his architect and Mr. Boord concerning both the lighting and the heating of the church. Eventually the rector introduced a Gurney stove for heating, and iron standards for lighting: the latter of which are now used in the cloister.
The work accomplished at this first great effort of restoration was of much importance, and formed the basis of the still greater effort which followed after Mr. Abbiss' death. (fn. 97)
The Abolition of the Church Rate.
There coincided with the completion of this great restoration the passing, on the 31st July 1868, of Gladstone's Compulsory Church Rate Abolition Act. A voluntary church rate was instituted in its place, which in the first year only realized £48; but in the next year (1869) a special appeal raised it to £134. In 1871, however, in order to pay off the outstanding debts of the churchwardens, it was found necessary to draw upon the proceeds of the sale of the old Watch House, which at that time amounted to £340.
There had been considerable opposition to the payment of the rate for some time before its abolition. In the year 1832 a parishioner had been cited before the Ecclesiastical Court for non-payment of the rate; (fn. 98) and in 1839 the vestry had been requested to support the efforts of the churchwardens to collect it. (fn. 99)
The effect of this Act was far-reaching. Among other things it materially affected the influence of the vestry. 'Who pays the piper calls the tune.' The parishioners used to pay the rate and therefore, through their vestry, they justly claimed the regulation of its expenditure; but they could not do so when the rate was only voluntary.
Another matter which also affected the vestry was the repeal, in the year 1851, of the Acts of Parliament under the authority of which the parish had managed its own affairs, such as cleaning, lighting, &c. (fn. 100) After that event they could neither influence the amount of the rates the parish was called upon to pay, nor the expenditure thereof: all they had to do was to levy such a rate as would cover the contribution order. The final blow came in the year 1907 when, by the Union of Parishes Act, the whole of the city for the purposes of the poor law was considered to be one parish, the separate parochial overseers and assistant overseers being merged into the Court of Common Council. This, therefore, will be a convenient place to give a brief history of the vestry.
A 'vestry' is a place adjoining the church where the vestments of the clergy are kept. The assemblies of the whole of the parishioners for the dispatch of the business of a parish were generally held in the church vestry, and so the assemblies themselves came to be called 'vestries'. All parishioners had a right to attend a vestry, but in many parishes the practice arose of choosing a certain number of persons yearly to manage the concerns of the parish for the rest and these were called select vestries. Sometimes, as here, the select vestries were not elected annually but were self-elected.
We have no record that the lay folk dwelling within the priory wall held any meetings or vestry before the suppression, but we know that in the time of Queen Mary, the year 1555, there was a vestry here open to all parishioners; and this continued until the year 1607, when, as already seen, (fn. 101) the parishioners complained to the Archdeacon of London, who approved of a select number of vestrymen acting for the rest, which arrangement continues to the present time.
The early vestry books of the parish are unfortunately lost, but we have a valuable and reliable record among the Cartae Miscellaneae (fn. 102) in the Lambeth Library signed by Dr. Westfield and the churchwarden in the year 1635. By this record the dates of 1555 and 1607 are definitely established.
This record consists of the answers of the minister and churchwardens given to certain questions sent to them by order of the Bishop of London, and other lords and judges of the High Court of Star Chamber. (fn. 103)
1. To the question whether the business of the parish was ordered by a vestry of selected persons or by a general meeting of all the parishioners, they replied that it was ordered by a vestry of selected persons and not by a general meeting.
2. To the question whether they had the vestry by grant from the Bishop and his chancellor, or by use and prescription, they replied that they found, by their ancient vestry books, that for the previous eighty years the affairs of the parish had been ordered by the vestry, and until the 15th March 1606–7 by a vestry general; at which time the parish, being much increased by many buildings, the parishioners finding many inconveniences by a disagreeing multitude, made complaint to the then archdeacon of London for reformation, whose official, Mr. Icor Creake, approved of a select number of vestrymen under his handwriting in their vestry book, which order had been continued until that time.
3. In answer to the question as to what power they claimed to their vestry, they replied that by virtue of their vestry they elected officers for their parish, made rates for the repair and beautifying of the church and for paying the clerk and sexton's wages, and for the relief of the poor, the examining of officers' accounts, and the settling of other things for the good and quiet of the parish.
4. In reply to the question as to what fees and duties they received for all ecclesiastical rights, and what table of fees they had, they replied that they had an ancient table of all such fees which some of the ancient inhabitants affirmed had long 'sithence' been confirmed by the then Bishop's chancellor which they continued without alteration, and particulars of which they gave.
Nothing is said in the answers as to the number of vestrymen agreed upon, but the vestry usually consisted of about thirty: in the year 1759 there were forty-five members present at a meeting. (fn. 104)
Parishioners were eligible for a seat on the vestry when they had served the various offices according to ancient custom; or when, having been nominated to an office, they had paid the fine instead of serving (the amounts of these fines has been already dealt with). (fn. 105) The vestry had the power to refuse anybody not suitable for the position, for in the year 1663 it was resolved that two men, owing to some misdemeanour were 'not capable of being vestrymen'. (fn. 106) When a vestryman removed from the parish his name was struck off the list; (fn. 107) but this led to inconvenience in the year 1783 when, as has been said, (fn. 108) so many 'parishioners' houses were burnt out that there were not sufficient men left to transact the business. The same difficulty occurred in 1830 after the two destructive fires of that year.
It would appear, however, that the vestry had the power to co-opt members, for as early as the year 1677 two men 'were chosen vestrymen', (fn. 109) and in 1728 it was ordered 'that some vestrymen be chosen in to fill up some vacancies', when two men were chosen accordingly. (fn. 110) In 1742 eleven men were added to the vestry at one time. (fn. 111)
In the year 1716 there was an agitation against select vestries, but a Bill in Parliament that year for their reform was thrown out. In 1720 a protest was made by a section of the parishioners, headed by Joshua Lock and John Darby, challenging the legality of the select vestry in this parish. (fn. 112) To test it they gave notice in church on Easter Sunday for the parishioners to meet on the Thursday following to choose churchwardens and other parochial officers. They duly met in the body of the church whilst the select vestry met in the vestry room. The former invited the latter to join them, but the invitation being declined they thereupon chose as churchwardens Archibald Pentre and John Russell, whilst the select vestry chose the same Pentre and Thomas Clement. A caveat was then issued against the swearing-in of Pentre and Clement elected by the select vestry, but they were, by a judge, duly sworn churchwardens. Richard Hyett (the late churchwarden) and the vestry, however, being desirous that the contest might be determined, brought a libel or action against Lock and Darby alleging that from time immemorial the right of choosing churchwardens and managing the affairs of the parish had been with the vestry exclusive of the other parishioners. Lock obtained a prohibition against further proceedings in the Ecclesiastical Court and proceeded to trial in the Common Pleas. Hyett for the vestry set forth the plea that the custom was 'that the rector and churchwardens for the time being and such parishioners who had served the office of churchwarden of the church and such parishioners who had fined and paid for the same office and who afterwards by the voice of the greater number of the parishioners, being members of the vestry and parochially assembled should happen to be chosen members of the vestry and not otherwise, had used to be members of the vestry and exclusively of other parishioners to meet in the vestry room of the church and to deliberate about parochial affairs '. The jury found that Hyett had fully proved the case about ancient usage and the select vestry but, as it appeared by an ancient vestry book that two persons who were vestry-men in the year 1662 were afterwards chosen churchwardens, the verdict of the jury was that they found the select vestry to be from time immemorial, but the defendants (Hyett and the vestry) not having fully made good their pleadings that the vestry-men elect were such only as had fined for the office of churchwarden, and it appearing in two or three instances that persons were chosen vestry-men who had not fined for the office of churchwarden, they therefore found for the plaintiffs (Lock and Darby), Thereupon on Sunday, December 17th, Lock and Darby gave notice of a meeting to elect constables and scavengers, but the select vestry being the first to assemble to the number of twenty-four chose these officers and on Plow Monday, according to ancient custom, presented them at the Guildhall. The swearing-in was opposed by Lock and Darby and twenty others, who insinuated that the verdict was against a select vestry: which it was not. The select vestry being ready to join issue and voluntarily to try the same, all the parties were called in and heard. Whereupon it was ordered by the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen that the constables and scavengers who were presented by the churchwardens in the usual manner be sworn in the outer court for the due execution of their respective places. And so it ended, but the dispute cost the parish £100.
The origin of the dispute was the order of the vestry of the 2nd March 1720, that the church and steeple be beautified and repaired, and that of the 13th July which ordered a rate to defray the cost, and in default of payment proceedings to be taken. (fn. 113) The Bishopsgate inhabitants contested the legality of their select vestry at the same time.
The select vestry at St. Bartholomew's never abused its powers. Mr. Sidney Webb in his book on local self-government quoted this parish as an example of honest administration, (fn. 114) and as welcoming into its ranks any respectable inhabitant who was willing to serve or fine; and he thinks that the vestry was justified when, in response to Sir John Hobhouse's letter in 1829, it 'resolved unanimously that the vestry, conscious of its own integrity in the discharge of the various duties devolving upon it, honestly and anxiously invite Parliamentary inquiry and will, to the utmost of its power, render every information to the committee of the House of Commons now sitting respecting the select vestry of this parish'. (fn. 115)
In the following year, on the 6th April 1830, while the churchwardens with the overseers were holding a meeting in the vestry room to make a poor rate, a list containing the names of some of the inhabitants respecting their assessment was sent in, and then some of them 'forcibly rushed into the vestry and conducted themselves in a very improper and tumultuous and offensive way whereby they were obliged to adjourn '. (fn. 116) The matter was brought before the Consistory Court, when the judge pronounced the charge of riot as proved, but not that of brawling, because only one witness could swear thereto. The parishioner proceeded against was Samuel Bagster, who was fined £20 by way of expenses. It is of some interest that the copies in the parish safe (fn. 117) of the sentence of the judge in the case against Bagster, and also in that against Wise (another parishioner), were made from shorthand notes by Charles Dickens, the author, and that these copies were examined, corrected, and signed by him. He describes himself as 'Shorthand writer, 5 Bell Yard, Doctors Commons'. An autograph letter in the British Museum from Dickens, dated January 20th, from 13 Furnival's Inn, and attributed to the year 1835, (fn. 118) is written in a similar hand, and the 'D' and 'k' in the signature are made in a similar way and not as in the later signatures.
In the same year (1830) a mandamus was served on the churchwardens to convene a meeting of the inhabitants to appoint a select vestry for the government of the poor, to which the vestry objected on the ground that there was 'already a select vestry in the parish established and acted upon by virtue of ancient usage', and Mr. Gale, the parish solicitor, was instructed to ascertain, under the advice of counsel, if another select vestry could be lawfully appointed. (fn. 119) As nothing more is recorded, no doubt the mandamus was withdrawn.
The last opposition to the select vestry was in 1853 and came from within. A meeting of the vestry was called and a resolution moved 'That the system of self-election under which the parish has been so long governed is contrary to the spirit of the English constitution and abhorrent to this age of progress: that the ratepayers have no voice in their taxation in themselves or representatives: that in order to remedy this evil the vestry of this parish be in future an open one and all ratepayers in future be vestrymen'. (fn. 120) Only two members, however, voted in favour and three against.
In the year 1755, as has been already stated, (fn. 121) the powers of the vestry, as a local governing authority, had been enlarged and strengthened by a private Act of Parliament entitled 'An Act for the better enlightening and cleansing the open Places, Squares, Streets, Lanes, Alleys, Passages and Courts within the Parish of Saint Bartholomew the Great, London; and regulating the Nightly Watch and Beadles within the said Parish '. By it the rector, churchwardens, overseers and vestrymen were appointed trustees for putting into execution all the powers given by the Act. The rates were to be made yearly and were not to exceed 1s. 8d. in the £.
In 1768 an amending Act had to be obtained ' for empowering the Trustees . . . to pave the Streets and other places within the parish, and to remove annoyances and Obstructions '. Among other things too numerous to mention here, the trustees were directed to have the names of the streets written at the corners, and they were empowered to have the houses numbered.
In 1851 these private Acts were repealed, as the passing of the City of London Sewers Act of 1848 authorized the Corporation to take over all the duties for which they were enacted. By vote of the vestry, on the 10th March 1852, the books and documents of the trustees under these Acts were handed back to the select vestry. (fn. 122) There are still, however, parish trustees who continue to act in regard to such trusts as still rest in them, as is shown by their meetings held in 1872, 1884, 1885, 1886, and in 1908. (fn. 123) The vestry also continues as a select vestry; but it seldom meets at other times than at Easter, when, owing to its civil duties having been taken away, its meetings are very poorly attended.
Privileges of the Parish.
Up to the middle of the nineteenth century the parish possessed special privileges and immunities distinct from those enjoyed by most of the other parishes of the city; and inasmuch as these gradually died out during the rectorship of Rector Abbiss they may be appropriately described here.
The origin of these peculiar privileges and the exclusive attitude of the parish is no doubt traceable to its monastic days. A similar instance is the parish of Holy Trinity, Minories, which was the Abbey or House of the Nuns Minoresses near Aldgate. There the monastery was granted absolute freedom from all ecclesiastical authority by a papal bull in the year 1295; and from all civil jurisdiction by Letters Patent from the King in the year 1400. (fn. 124) These grants were the foundations of the remarkable privileges that survived there into the last century.
At St. Bartholomew's Henry I granted by his Charter to the prior and convent freedom from all earthly servitude and from earthly power and subjection except episcopal custom (fn. 125) and other privileges. The same privileges were given by Henry II in his Charter of circ. 1173, (fn. 126) and these were confirmed by the Charter of Henry VII (fn. 127) in the year 1489. Now the grant made to Rich in the year 1544 by Henry VIII gave all the rights in the water supply from Islington and all the rights and privileges in the Fair to Rich, to enjoy as freely and as fully as they had been enjoyed by Prior Bolton, but it did not extend to other privileges and exemptions granted to the prior and convent, some of which may have been shared by those dwelling in the parish which was within the monastic walls. It may be that Rich held, or pretended to hold, the opinion that the parishioners were still entitled to enjoy the other privileges granted to the monastery, apart from those connected with the water and the Fair, because it was of this particular charter of Henry VII, which confirmed the monastic privileges, as other confirming charters had not done, that in 1583 Baron Rich, the grandson of Sir Richard, obtained from Queen Elizabeth an exemplification. And when, in 1663, his grandson Robert (the second Earl of Holland) had transcripts made into a book 'to show the boundaries and privileges of the place and his own title thereto' this exemplification was included. (fn. 128) The privileges claimed and enjoyed by the parish in the year 1825 were fully recited in a petition to the mayor and aldermen, and entered on the vestry minutes in March of that year. (fn. 129)
It is therein set out:
First. 'That the parish was not in any way subject to the jurisdiction of the city trustees until the reign of James I, who, by his charter of the 20th September 1609, did ordain and grant that the said city of London and the Circuits, Bounds, Limits, Franchises and Jurisdictions of the same should extend and stretch forth in and through all and singular the several Circuits, Bounds, Limits, Franchises and Jurisdictions (inter alia) of the late dissolved Priory of St. Bartholomew London, near Smithfield, so as from thenceforth for all and singular the Circuits and Franchises aforesaid of the said Priory or House of St. Bartholomew for all times to come should be and remain within the Circuits, Precincts, Liberties and Franchises of the same City of London.' And
Secondly. 'That although the parish had been since that time within the precinct of the city, and although it was between the wards of Farringdon without and Aldersgate without, it was not itself within any ward of London (fn. 130) and that it was not subject to the customs of the city and that the parishioners were not liable to serve ward offices.'
Evidence of the truth of this contention still exists in the fact that St. Bartholomew the Great, as other parishes of monastic origin (The Temple, Whitefriars, and St. Bartholomew's the Less), has not the right of a Precinct to nominate fit and properly qualified persons to go to the wardmote for final election as representatives to the Court of Common Council in the City of London. (fn. 131) In the year 1866 this extension was not considered as a privilege, so some thirty inhabitants of the parish requested the churchwardens to call a meeting of the parishioners to consider the question of a Precinct return for St. Bartholomew the Great. (fn. 132) At the precinct meeting a precinct clerk was elected and two parishioners were nominated as Common Councilmen for the precinct. The nomination was sent to the alderman of the ward, Sir James Duke, and the matter came up at the wardmote; but it was ruled by the alderman that 'there was no power of conferring the right of Precinct on St. Bartholomew's the Great, it being a matter of ancient custom'. (fn. 133)
Although this parish, therefore, has not the right of primary nomination, the inhabitants are on the list of ward voters, so that when there is a contested election and the sixteen members have to be chosen, the inhabitants of the parish have a vote for each of sixteen candidates. The only officers of the ward are the clerk and the beadle, both of whom are paid officials.
Thirdly. 'That not being subject to the customs of the city, the inhabitants were entitled to carry on trade in the parish without being free of the city.' This was an exemption also enjoyed by St. Martin-le-Grand of which the city was naturally jealous; it gave rise to much trouble, as has been already shown. (fn. 134) But as the control formerly exercised by the City Companies over their trades was with remarkably few exceptions abandoned in practice before 1837 (in fact the right of search had been given up before the end of the eighteenth century) (fn. 135) the exclusiveness of this privilege has disappeared by the extension of the right. In spite of this, however, in the year 1850, the Bakers' Company threatened proceedings against an inhabitant of the parish to make him take up his freedom: being 'contrary to ancient custom long enjoyed' the vestry resolved 'that by the charter granted by King Henry I to Pryor Bolton (sic) confirmed by charter of King Henry VIII to Sir Richard Rich, the inhabitants of this parish are exempt from corporate service and fines as nonfreemen which exemption is further confirmed by the fact that the inhabitants of this parish have been in quiet possession of these immunities time out of mind.' (fn. 136)
Fourthly. 'That they were not liable to serve upon any juries or inquests, other than Coroners' Inquests on deaths happening within the parish.'
This freedom from Jury service was frequently challenged; thus, when in 1726 several inhabitants were summoned to appear at the Old Bailey to serve as jurymen contrary to the ancient custom of the parish it was 'resolved that the persons summoned do not attend to the said summons, and that if any prosecution shall arise' the vestry would indemnify them. (fn. 137) In 1788 twenty-four of the inhabitants were summoned by the coroner to serve on a jury at the hospital; the vestry thereupon resolved that the warrant should not be obeyed because from custom immemorial the inhabitants were only liable to serve in their own parish. (fn. 138) Again, in 1851, the churchwardens laid before the vestry a requisition from the secondaries of London calling upon them to furnish a list of persons qualified to serve upon juries, when the vestry, on behalf of the inhabitants, again claimed exemption, this time 'by ancient charter and prescriptive right'. (fn. 139)
In 1861 a vestry was called 'to consider an attempt made to compel the inhabitant ratepayers to serve upon juries' when 'it was resolved to call a public meeting of the inhabitants who had been exempt from Jury service from time immemorial'. (fn. 140)
From this time the matter is not again mentioned in the Vestry Books, but it seems that fines were inflicted on this occasion. Whereupon, in 1862, Serjeant Petersdorff's opinion was taken, (fn. 141) which was adverse to the views of the vestry. He held that 'a claim of exemption from the fulfilment of a common law and statutory duty could not be successfully based upon a charter or prescription, not clearly and in words distinctly conferring the immunity': that 'there were very few words in Henry VIII's charter that could be considered by any liberality of construction to confer upon the contemporaneous inhabitants or succeeding generations the immunity sought to be established'. He considered that the charters were 'limited to the prior and the canons regularly officiating and their successors' and did 'not extend to the whole of the then and subsequent inhabitants'. That the charter 'gives to the inhabitants the benefit of local court, but none of the charters contain any negative provisions excluding them from common law or statutory duties'. If it was decided to continue the resistance, he advised to petition the Treasury to remit the fine or to suspend its enforcement until the matter could be brought before the Queen's Bench. The latter course was apparently taken on behalf of Mr. James Houghton, but it failed. The matter was finally settled by the passing of the Juries Act in the year 1870, (fn. 142) Sect. 9 of which enacts that 'The persons described in the schedule hereto shall be severally exempt' from serving as jurors . . . 'but save as aforesaid no man otherwise qualified to serve . . . shall be exempt from serving thereon, any enactment, prescription, charter, grant or writ to the contrary notwithstanding'.
Fifthly. It was claimed that the vestrymen were entitled to choose their own constables and watchmen, and to make all rates for paving, cleaning, lighting and watching the parish; the history of which claim has already been given. (fn. 143)
It would certainly seem that, before the suppression, those living within the monastic walls were exempt from city levies, except by way of voluntary contributions, since in the year 1512 aldermen were appointed to confer with the prior and the master of the hospital for a contribution from their tenants. (fn. 144)
Robert the third Baron Rich apparently attempted to push his privileges too far, both with the Corporation and with the Privy Council, for about the year 1593 the Court of Aldermen decided to 'apply for a Quo Warranto touching the pretended liberties of White Friars and Great St. Bartholomew's'. (fn. 145) And, in 1597, the inhabitants of the parish, having taken exception to joining with the city in the levy issued by Queen Elizabeth of 500 soldiers for active service (probably under Lord Essex, to assist the French king against the Spanish invaders), the Privy Council wrote to Lord Rich, to whom, as they say, the 'liberty' belonged, 'that in these public services for the Queen and state the "liberty" did not give such exemption and called upon him to take such steps that the parishioners would bear their due proportion of the levy'. (fn. 146) Two years later, in 1599, the Court of Aldermen ordered the Recorder to 'consider the wrongs and abuses offered to the City by Lord Rich and the inhabitants of Great St. Bartholomew's and what course should be taken by law for reformation hereof'. (fn. 147) But apparently the Corporation got no satisfaction, as in 1606 a committee was appointed 'to confer towards purchasing the dissolved priory'; (fn. 148) but that too failed, and in 1705 the parish is referred to (in Counsel's opinion) as 'the Royalty of which the Earl of Warwick and Holland is Lord'.
In the eighteenth and early in the nineteenth centuries the Corporation showed their resentment against the privileges of the parish by withholding from the parish their portion of the benefactions of the poor; (fn. 149) but all feelings of that kind have now passed away.
The vestry were jealous not only of the rights of the parishioners within the parish, but also of those without. Thus, in 1822, St. Bartholomew's Hospital closed the right of way which had existed up to that time from Little Britain through the hospital ground to Giltspur Street, against which action the vestry drew up a memorial and remonstrance. (fn. 150) To this the Treasurer of the Hospital replied that neither the parishioners nor the public were excluded because decent and respectable persons, on knocking at the gates, were permitted to pass through: that the governors had thought fit to close the gates as a matter of internal regulation: that in the case of public tumult they had heretofore closed the gates by day, and their right to do so had never been disputed: and that the parishioners had no occasion to look at the inscription 'No thoroughfare' placed on one of the gates. But the vestry very properly replied that by such an inscription they considered the thoroughfare obstructed and forbidden, and that they had seen a respectable female who had knocked at one of the gates the day before forbidden to pass through, and the gate shut in her face. The governors, however, disregarded the remonstrance, so the vestry presented a petition to the Court of Aldermen, whereupon an order was given to the city solicitor to indict the governors at the next session; upon this the hospital agreed to make a wicket in the iron gates and to allow the wickets to be open during the customary hours of the day.
The subject of the poor largely occupied the attention of the vestry and the parish trustees at this time. From the year 1601, when overseers of the poor were appointed by Queen Elizabeth's Act, down to the year 1907, the churchwardens and overseers had to make provision for the poor of the parish. That the work was arduous is shown by the churchwardens' accounts. A person becoming a charge on the rates was chargeable to the parish in which his birth took place; the churchwardens therefore had to exercise great vigilance that children of non-parishioners were not born in the parish. Churchwarden Laming's account of the year 1697, printed in the Appendix, though coarse, gives a graphic idea of the derogatory work which at that time fell to the lot of a churchwarden. (fn. 151)
From a list of the names of 'the poor pensioners' in the parish in 1681 (fn. 152) we learn that there were at that time 4 men, 2 women, 8 widows, and 8 children receiving as a rule 1s. a week, though 1 widow and 5 children had 9s. a week between them, another widow had 2s., and one of the men only 6d. a week. For a woman in Bethlehem Hospital 3s. a week was paid. In 1667 there had been 13 widows, 1 man, and 6 nurse children costing the parish £40 9s. A return made in 1698 showed a list of 23 pensioned poor costing the parish £74 0s. 9d. Orphan children chargeable to the parish, when of sufficient age, were sent to some tradesman or mechanic who gave to the churchwardens a bond, (fn. 153) varying from £20 to £40, for the maintenance and education of the child, and for teaching him some art or trade for which a boy was not to be bound after he had reached the age of 24 years; a valuable consideration being given by the churchwardens. Pauper children were also apprenticed at the charge of the parish. (fn. 154)
The adult poor, in receipt of poor relief, had, by Act of Parliament, to wear a badge, and this, as the vestry books show, was much resented. (fn. 155)
The first record of a workhouse is in the year 1707. It is in connexion with a lawsuit between this parish and the workhouse in Bishopsgate, called the Corporation Workhouse. (fn. 156) The case was lost, and the parish had apparently to contribute to the Corporation Workhouse, and the case cost the parish over £90. (fn. 157) In the year 1737 a committee was appointed to find a place for a workhouse for the parish. This was found in Pelican Court, which led out of Little Britain between St. Bartholomew's and Christ's Hospitals, to the latter of which the house belonged. (fn. 158) But in 1741 it was 'ordered that the poor be taken from the workhouse and put to such persons as the churchwardens and overseers shall think proper'. (fn. 159) In the year 1766 we find the vestry entering into an agreement with a Mr. John Powell 'for wholly maintaining and cloathing the poor of the parish for one year' for the sum of £430; (fn. 160) but the parish had still to pay the quota assessed for the support of the London workhouse, £23 9s. 4d. (fn. 161) In 1796 the vestry entered into a contract with a Mrs. Sarah Showell of Bear Lane for the keep of the poor at 4s. 3d. a head a week for grown persons and 3s. 9d. a week for children; (fn. 162) but later the children seem to have been sent to another contractor at Enfield. (fn. 163) In 1799 and in 1801, (fn. 164) when the prices of all provisions went up, the contractors were allowed to advance their charges. (fn. 165) At the same time, in 1801, some adult poor were taken from Mrs. Showell's workhouse and sent to Mr. McKenzie's in Islington; (fn. 166) and in 1812 the churchwardens were empowered to place poor with J. Tipple & Son, Hoxton. (fn. 167) In 1824 it was decided to send children of 9 years of age and over to Sewell & Cheap's Flax Mills at Hounslow instead of to the mill at Watford, as had been the custom. (fn. 168) In the year 1827 the vestry accepted the offer of Carr, Dodgson & Co. to take the female children of 7 years and upwards into their employ, the parish to give the children a good working suit of clothes and to pay 2s. 6d. a week for two years. (fn. 169)
In 1822 the compulsory finding of work for the poor began to be a very serious matter, and the London workhouse asked for a grant of £2,443 for the purpose; whereupon the churchwardens, with those of several city parishes, met at Bow Church, and resolved to request the assistance of the Court of Common Council to put down the London workhouse as no longer necessary. (fn. 170)
In 1832 the great Reform Bill was passed, and in 1834 the new Poor Law established the workhouse system with Union of Parishes, which placed the paupers under central management and control, and therefore ended the responsibility of the churchwardens. An amending Act was passed in 1868, and the next year the clerk read to the vestry the Poor Law order for the dissolution of the West London Union, and the consolidation of the parishes comprised in it, with those of the City of London and East London Unions, into one Union to be called the City of London Union. (fn. 171) Offices for this new Union were then established at 61 Bartholomew Close, where they are still.
In 1846 the Public Baths and Washhouses Act was passed, but its adoption by the City being left optional, it was not taken up. In the following year the vestry of St. Bartholomew's appointed a committee to confer with St. Sepulchre's regarding the establishment of such an institution for the joint parishes, (fn. 172) but nothing was done. In 1890 an effort was made to induce the Corporation to adopt the Act because of the deplorable condition of the poor in this and some of the adjoining parishes, as they had nowhere to wash either themselves or their clothes. The vestry passed a resolution in favour of the scheme, (fn. 173) which was brought forward by petition to the Court of Common Council. The churchwardens appeared before the Court, but the petition was rejected. Another effort was made in May 1893, (fn. 174) when a committee was appointed to approach the central governing body of the City of London Parochial Charities Fund, seeing that the charities of the City had all been taken over under the City of London Parochial Charities Act of 1883; but this last effort met with no better success.
In 1881 a benevolent institution was established in the parish under the title of 'The Fraternity of Rahere Almoners' by the churchwardens, Mr. Thomas Sangster, Mr. John Hollinghurst, and by Mr. James Stevens of Clapham, and others, for the purpose of affording assistance and relief to deserving and necessitous persons residing in or otherwise connected with the parish and its immediate neighbourhood, in memory of the founder of the priory. In 1882 Mr. Stevens compiled a brief account of the priory and of this institution, which was sold privately for the benefit of the object in view.
Mr. Abbiss made many presents to the church apart from his large donations to the Restoration Fund. We learn from a memorandum in his handwriting (fn. 175) that, between the years 1869 and 1873, when the lighting of the church was not considered satisfactory by him, he gave the six gas standards which are still preserved in the church. He also gave some altar lights, a new churchwardens' pew, an old oak chair, and a carved oak bench, which latter for some reason he considered to date from about the year 1400, but it is, apparently, not earlier than the nineteenth century. The chair and the bench now stand in the civic pew.
The aged rector began to fail in 1873. On the 9th November of that year he took a baptism for the last time, on the 23rd he took his last marriage, and on the 7th December he preached his last sermon, as already stated; he was, however, up to the year 1880, frequently present at the services of the church. In 1877, being then aged 84, he attended a vestry meeting, when it was resolved 'that the parish be perambulated and the boundaries thereof beaten according to ancient custom on Ascension Day, and that five pounds be charged to the poor rate for that purpose'. (fn. 176) On the day he himself took his place in the procession, wearing a black gown, and walking with the churchwardens and vestry clerk in front. With the exception of the 'beating' in 1879 in connexion with the Manchester Hotel, which is partly in this parish and partly in Aldersgate, the bounds have not been beaten since. (fn. 177)
On the 20th October 1882 the vestry appointed a church works committee, consisting of eight members, as the roof wanted repair, and complaint was made of the coldness of the church: thereupon Mr. Abbiss promised £100 to perfect the heating apparatus. (fn. 178)
On the 24th November he was present at the vestry for the last
time, and on the 8th July following (1883) he died at his house,
No. 39 Myddelton Square, being within five days of his 91st birthday.
The funeral service was held at St. Bartholomew's on the 14th, and
the interment took place at Stoke d'Abernon (where the Rev. F. P.
Phillips was the rector and the squire), in the graveyard on the
south side of the church, where the following inscription is on the
The Rev. John Abbiss
64 years rector of the ancient
Priory Church of St. Bartholomew Smithfield
Died 8th July, 1883
Aged 93 years. (fn. 179)
The late Mr. W. H. Jackson, the vestry clerk, who was acquainted with him from the middle of the 'forties, has communicated further reminiscences, which will be found in the Appendix. (fn. 180)