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 IV - NAVE AND FLOOR LEVELS
The nave of the church, with its aisles, was destroyed by Henry VIII at the time of the suppression of the monastery. The only portions now left are the eastern bay, the south portion of the west façade, a fragment of the south wall, with the bases of three vaulting shafts and probably the greater portion of the foundations of the north wall, though these latter at present have not been opened up. There are also a few fragments of worked stone which are preserved in the church.
The remains indicate that the work was of the first half of the thirteenth century, excepting the eastern bay, which, as already mentioned, dated—like the crossing—from the third quarter of the twelfth century.
As already shown, it is probable that more bays than one were built in the twelfth century, (fn. 1) but the remains of a thirteenth-century base still existing at the north corner of the present west wall show that, if more were built, they were taken down and rebuilt in the thirteenth century.
The twelfth-century eastern bay of the nave, which was occupied by the west end of the ritual quire, was left standing in its main structure by the thirteenth-century builders. They seem, however, to have endeavoured to alter it to harmonize as far as possible with their new work westward, for, as previously stated, they took down the earlier clerestory windows and replaced them with others, presumably of the same design as in the rest of the nave, and they carried the higher Early English vault of the aisles into this bay.
The thirteenth-century clerestory windows still exist and there are fragments of the aisle vaulting on both sides of the church. In the south aisle the easternmost shafts and springers of the vault remain. The shafts are slender and double; those on the south side by the cloister door have bands with plain moulded caps; those on the nave side have no bands, and the caps, though much obscured with whitewash, were evidently foliated. It may be assumed that they were built at the same time, the latter design being used for the nave arcade and the former for the mural vaulting shafts of the aisle. They are built of Reigate stone. On the north side of the church, as seen from Cloth Fair, the line of the thirteenth-century vault is still plainly visible against the north wall of this bay.
The introduction of the higher Early English vault into the Norman work made the vault protrude considerably through the floor of the triforium, and it was no doubt to screen this that both triforium openings of this bay were filled in as we now see them, and the subsidiary arcade removed, if it ever existed. In the filling (on both sides of the church) are the small doorways already described opening on to the pulpitum and leading by steps to the upper side of the new vaults: the steps to the doorway on the north side of the church (fn. 2) still remain, but those on the south side have been removed. The filling of the triforium openings was unevenly done; that in the north opening left only one order of the arch visible, while that in the south left two. The Norman work follows closely that in the quire: the arches had flat soffits, but the jambs had detached shafts at least to the outer order: the date (third quarter of the twelfth century) is clearly indicated in the hood mould, which is ornamented with a threaded billet. The existence of a square angle instead of a shaft on the east jamb of the south opening is probably due, like the doorways, to the repairs of about 1405.
The Early English windows inserted in the clerestory are very interesting, as they appear to indicate a transition state from plate to bar tracery. (fn. 3) They consist of two lower lights, without cusping, with a circle above, also without cusping; the section is separated to form panels in the spandrels and to produce the lines of perfect bar work, but these panels are not pierced and are formed out of single stones. The panels exist on both faces of the windows. The rere-arches of these windows have simple hood moulds, similar to the windows in the tower of St. Nicholas, King's Lynn, and in the ruins of Neath Abbey.
The Early English windows do not occupy the exact position of the previous Norman ones, which probably centred with the bays of the triforium below. On the north side of the church the east jamb of the Norman window still exists, the later work being built up to it with a straight joint. It had a shaft, the cap of which was exposed when the thirteenth-century window was uncovered in 1915, and the cap can still be seen from the organ loft.
About 3 in. above this cap there was discovered at the same time a small slightly pointed window, which measures on the face of the outer wall 2 ft. 3 in. by 1 ft. (pl. XLVII a, p. 59). It is splayed through the wall, which is 4 ft. thick, and measures on the face of the inner wall 3 ft. 5½ in. by 2 ft. 3 in. The sill is on a level with the springing of the thirteenth-century arch of the clerestory window. There are no signs that this little window was ever glazed, but the stone is so much decayed by the weather that any rebate for glass would have disappeared. The purpose of the window is obscure, because it was not needed to give light, being so close to the great clerestory window, and as it is entirely beyond doubt that the nave was never vaulted, it was not required to give light over a vault.
Below this window again, but nearer the arch of the crossing, and immediately above the twelfth-century string, is a small squareheaded opening (pl. XLVII a, p. 59), also discovered at the same time in 1915. The sill is on a level with the floor of the clerestory passage into which it opens. It has a small chamfer on the jambs and head, and measures 2 ft. 6 in. high by 12½ in. wide; the purpose of this opening is also obscure. Mr. F. Bligh Bond, however, has pointed out that close down at the right-hand corner of this little window, inside the church, there remains built into the wall a stone corbel which has all the appearance of having been placed there as a support for a candle beam traversing the nave at this point. Candles placed on such a beam would throw their light exactly through this small window and would have denoted to those assembled outside at Bartholomew Fair time the keeping, within the church, of the festal celebration of St. Bartholomew's Day (August 24th). If that were so, then he points out that the square-headed opening below would probably have been made to enable an acolyte to have access through it to the beam, by means of a little staging outside the opening and a short ladder to a small gallery, for lighting and extinguishing the tapers. Another reason for showing a light through this little window may have been to drive away evil spirits, which were supposed to haunt the north side of churches; or, the parochial burying-ground being on the north side, it may have served as a 'Lantern of the Dead', as may still be seen in some cemeteries in France, at Limousin, Poitou, &c. (fn. 4) At Cleeve Abbey in Somersetshire there is a somewhat similar opening for a bell to call in those working in the fields.
The ground arcade of this sole surviving bay of the nave is similar to that of the quire immediately east of the crossing, and like that bay has compound piers. These piers are somewhat wider than those in the quire, by a thirteenth-century addition to their western ends, in order that they might harmonize with the other Early English piers in the nave. The Early English base of the compound pier on the north side was uncovered in 1864 and can be seen from the graveyard (pl. XL, p. 45). The mouldings on the arches of this bay of the nave are the same as those of the quire, except that the billet on the label has been omitted, probably with the intention of making the nave a little less enriched than the quire. As the height of this remaining bay of the nave is the same as that of the quire, it is probable that the nave was of the same height, but the higher vault of the aisles would have necessitated a corresponding lesser height of the triforium.
As previously pointed out, the nave, like the quire, probably had a flat wooden ceiling carried against the face of the west arch of the crossing, as shown by the twelfth-century string which still exists. The openings of these two bays (north and south) of the ground arcade of the nave, being at the ends of the pulpitum, were probably filled, though there is no indication of this in the south bay; the opening in the north bay is at present filled with a small wall of ashlar in which is a doorway with a Tudor arch. This doorway was lowered to its present position in 1864, when the steps down to the church from Cloth Fair were placed outside, instead of inside, the building.
Of the aisles of the nave only the south aisle of the eastern bay remains. The corresponding bay on the north side was encroached upon in the sixteenth century, and possession could not be regained when the north transept was restored in 1893; but the encroachment has now been removed by the demolition in 1914 of No. 9 with other Cloth Fair houses. In the bay of the south aisle the thirteenth-century vaulting shafts and part of the springers of the vault remain, and on both sides there are remains of the mural rib of the Early English vault as already referred to, but all traces of the Norman vault have been removed (pl. XVIII, p. 10).
In the south bay is the original twelfth-century doorway to the east walk of the cloister. It measures 11 ft. in height and 6 ft. in width. It was built up after the suppression in 1539, and was only re-opened in 1905. (fn. 5) In monastic times an image of St. Bartholomew stood beside it, (fn. 6) for in 1494 Alice Hoole, a widow of the parish, who bequeathed to the prior and convent 'a silver gilt chalice and a corporax cloth of crimson velvet bordered with two branches of gold', made the condition that they should pray for her and bury her within the church 'under the image of Seint Barthilmewe standyng at the Cloister dore'. (fn. 7)
The present cloister doors are those in use immediately before the suppression (pl. LXIX, p. 132). When the cloister doorway was built up in 1540 the doors were taken down and made to serve as entrance doors in the present west wall of the church erected at that time by Henry VIII. They appear in the Hans Sloane engraving of 1737 in the doorway under the tower (pl. XXI a, p. 14). In 1864 the tower entrance was closed and the space converted into a baptistry. About the year 1890, the entrance was again made under the tower and the doors erected there, but only to be once more taken down when the present porch was built in 1893. They were then stored away until 1905, when, doors being wanted for the cloister, it was discovered that they were the original cloister doors and they were therefore re-erected in their original position.
A question was raised in 1863 as to whether the nave extended as far as Smithfield, it being suggested that the gateway facing Smithfield was an entrance to the Close and not directly to the church. But the matter was conclusively settled in 1906, when excavations were made in the churchyard path and under the public footway. For in this manner the nave wall was traced from the portion still standing in the eastern end of the church path to the churchyard gates. Thence it was traced under the public footway to beneath the floor of the house No. 57 West Smithfield, and so to within a few feet of the gate itself. Finally, in 1910, when possession was obtained of the house above the gate, there was found against the east side of the gate the remains of a shaft with a portion of the springer of the aisle vault, proving conclusively that the nave aisle was continued right up to the Smithfield gate through which the aisle was entered. The length of the nave from the present west wall of the church to the outer face of the Smithfield gate is 152 ft. 8 in., or about 169 ft. from the western arch of the crossing. This is not out of proportion to the total length of the church, which was 349 ft.
The nave and aisles consisted apparently of ten bays, including the eastern bay still in the church. When the churchyard path was lowered in 1866, (fn. 8)the portion of the original south wall mentioned above, with the bases of three mural vaulting shafts, was discovered. In 1906, by means of a small excavation in the seventh bay, the bases of the jambs of the west cloister door were found, and these are now marked in outline in brass in the church path.
The first bay (in the church), the second bay (occupied by the porch), and the third bay (in the churchyard) were found by the discovery of these shafts in situ to measure 15 ft. 9 in. each, and the fourth bay 17 ft. If the fifth and sixth bays also measured 15 ft. 9 in. each, then a vaulting shaft would have come immediately on the east side of the west cloister door, just as it does now at the east cloister door, which suggests that that was their measurement.
It is also not unreasonable to suppose that there were four more bays of 15 ft. 9 in. each in the remaining space of 63 ft. between the sixth bay and the Smithfield gate, making ten bays in all. That no base of a shaft was found between the eighth and ninth bays, when tunnelling under the public footway, may be explained by the fact that a doorway was found in the south wall at that point which may have necessitated the vault being supported by a corbel instead of by a shaft, as in the south aisle of Wenlock Priory. Hardwick's plan of 1791 shows that there were 96 ft. of the south wall still standing at that time, and shows the arch of the west cloister doorway; Malcolm, writing in 1803, also refers to it. (fn. 9) It was not actually demolished until the 'Coach and Horses' public-house adjoining was pulled down in April 1856. The vestry, finding that the church wall was being taken down as well as the public-house, gave orders for this to be stopped, but the wall was apparently left in such a dilapidated condition that the Corporation intervened and on September 11th of that year the vestry resolved: (fn. 10)
'That the churchwardens be requested to offer for sale by tender to the best bidder the old building materials, namely the bricks, stones, etc., of the old wall in the front churchyard lately pulled down by order of the City Commissioners of Sewers.'
In the rebuilding of the public-house the lights over the churchyard, allowed to be opened by the vestry in 1731, (fn. 11) were unfortunately permitted to continue. The church wall had been encroached upon from the south as early as 1669. (fn. 12)
Hardwick's drawing of this wall shows the west cloister arch in its proper position, but in the distance between it and the west wall of the church he shows a mural arcade of six arches (instead of five), which must be imaginary as they bear no relation to the vaulting shafts above referred to, still actually existing, and there is no sign of any arcading on the wall in the careful engraving dedicated to Sir Hans Sloane in 1737 (pl. XXI a, p. 14).
At the base of the wall was found, during the excavations of 1906, a bench 11 in. wide and 9½ in. from the floor, as occurs at Christchurch, Hampshire, and elsewhere. The threshold of the door mentioned above, and discovered at the same time, has a step of 6 in., and may have led to a parlour of the guest-house, as at Mottisfont, Hampshire.
It is difficult to assign exactly a reason for the fourth bay of the aisle being wider than the rest. It may indicate the point at which the twelfth-century builders finished and those of the thirteenth century commenced; for we have already shown the probability of the former having built three bays in all; or it may have been in connexion with the rood screen, which would have been continued across the aisles.
We know that there was a rood screen, because in the year 1371 Henry Bosele willed to be buried 'before the Great Cross', (fn. 13) as the cross of the rood was usually called; and in 1435 Alice Mores willed to be buried 'before the altar of the Cross', (fn. 14) generally called the Jesus altar, which stood on the west side of the screen between the two doorways. A normal position for the screen would have been at the pier between the third and fourth bays, which is the position at St. Albans where the rood screen still remains.
Of the west façade of the nave there only remains the south-west portal, known as the Smithfield Gate; and small portions of the wall on either side of it. The fragment on the south side was only discovered in 1909 when the stationer's shop was set back. The lower part of the wall had been badly damaged. This had to be refaced, which made it a permissible place on which to fix the war shrine in 1917, referred to below.
The plinth at the base of the wall is original and on the upper part of the wall the original face remains. Upon it is the arch of a mural arcade similar to the one in a like position at Dunstable; below the shop window is the base of a buttress. (fn. 15) The rest of the west front, which must have extended to the entrance to Cloth Fair, has been entirely removed, even to the foundations.
The opening of the Smithfield Gateway is 6 ft. 6 in. wide, 18 ft. 10 in. high, from the original floor level, and 7 ft. deep, from the face of the west wall. So great a thickness indicates an important superstructure, such as a tower; (fn. 16) and that there was a tower above the gateway is indicated in a record of certain Chancery proceedings which took place in 1596. For therein a parishioner, Philip (afterwards Sir Philip) Scudamore, described the building over the gateway (which building he had himself pulled down in 1595) as:
'Certain chambers or rooms one over another anciently edified builded and standing over and upon the same gate on an arch of stone and two great mayne pillars of stone bering upp the saide arche chambers and rooms.' (fn. 17) Rooms described as 'anciently builded' in 1595 must have been of pre-suppression date; and the description 'one over another' suggests rooms in a two-storied tower. At Dunstable there is such a tower, but it is at the north, not the south end of the west front as here.
The present rooms over the gateway are as they were built by Scudamore in 1595. At some time, probably the first half of the eighteenth century, the front of this house was hung with red tiles made to resemble bricks (pl. XLVIII a); but in the year 1916 these tiles had to be taken down, having been loosened by the Zeppelin raid of the previous September. The old half-timbered house was thus disclosed, still in a sound condition. The few defective timbers were made good, the windows, including the dormer, were renewed, and the house restored to its Elizabethan character (pl. XLVIII b). During the work it was found that every piece of the wood had been previously used for some other purpose before its erection here; probably the timber had come from the rooms of the tower that Scudamore pulled down, for one piece—now in the cloister—had been a top rail of a wooden screen from the church.
In 1917 there was placed between the upper windows of this house a figure of St. Bartholomew, carved by Mr. W. S. Frith from an oak beam at one time in the church. This was given by Sir Aston Webb in memory of his son Philip E. Webb, 2nd Lt. R.E., killed in action in France, 25th September 1916. Below the lower windows are emblazoned the arms of the priory. On the new stone face of the south side of the gateway facing Smithfield has been placed a war shrine, presented by a donor who wished to remain anonymous, to commemorate those connected with St. Bartholomew's who fell in the Great War. It was designed by Sir Aston Webb; the figure of our Lord was carved by Mr. Frith from an old oak beam from one of the Cloth Fair houses (fn. 18) (pl. XLVIII b; pl. XXIV b, p. 18). It was, together with the figure of St. Bartholomew above, dedicated by Dr. Perrin, Bishop of Willesden, on November 18th, 1917.
The ancient rooms above the gateway were part of the grant to Rich in 1544, who disposed of them, but the portal itself was retained as a convenient place to hang one of the gates of the parish which had become the 'liberty' of Lord Rich. From that time the gateway was the property of the parish; but the house above remained in private hands until 1910, when it was purchased for the parish by public subscription.
The arch is recessed into four orders with Early English mouldings and the dog-tooth ornament. Each order springs from a corbel in the form of a capital with a small pendant. Evidently there were no shafts carried down, as at Dunstable, because the simply splayed wall below the corbels has a projecting plinth, 2 ft. 6 in. above the original ground level. The four corbels on the north side remain, but on the south side two are missing. The mouldings on this south side were covered for many years by the shelving in the stationer's shop, during which time the other corbels were thickly covered with Roman cement; John Blyth, senior, when architect of the church, used this material very largely: the mouldings on the east side of the arch are still covered with it, as was the west face of the wall, which is patched with brick on the north side of the arch. The shaft which occupied the angle between the wall and the arch on the north side, which was carried down as far as the springing of the arch, was found—when the arch was restored in 1910—to consist entirely of brick and Roman cement. This shaft first appears in engravings in 1838, (fn. 19) and as in the archives of the church occurs an estimate by John Blyth, sen., dated 1836, to restore with best Roman cement various mouldings and other members of an arch and piers in the church, (fn. 20) we may fairly assume that this shaft of brick and cement had no greater authority than Mr. John Blyth. It was removed in 1910.
There are some indications of there having been a buttress on the wall on the north side of the gateway as well as on the south side (alluded to above), but they are not conclusive. On the east side of the arch the arch mouldings remain, also the original rebate of the door; and adjoining on the south side are the Early English base, capital and springer of the vault alluded to above, (fn. 21) but the shaft has gone.
The present iron-work in the gateway up to the spring of the arch was the work of John Blyth in 1856, in place of the iron gate injured by the fire of the year before. (fn. 22) The upper portion was added sometime after 1864. When the Corporation bought the gates of the parish in 1910 they allowed the framework of this gate to remain. Previous to 1804 the way was closed by a plain wooden door, as the other gateways of the parish (fn. 23) (pl. XXIV a, p. 18; pl. LXXXIII b, p. 210).
The gateway itself has been in jeopardy on several occasions; thus, in the year 1814, there was some wish in the parish to remove it entirely, but when Sir J. A. Park gave his opinion, as Counsel, (fn. 24) that the parish would be bound to support the house above the arch, the vestry relinquished the idea. In 1855 the house adjoining on the north side of the gateway was burnt down, when, but for the precautions of Mr. Palmer of the parish, the gate itself would have fallen. (fn. 25) And in 1901 an electric company—without permission and under cover of night—set a gang of men to underpin the arch to form a storage chamber, and were only stayed in the morning by the issue of a writ. (fn. 26)
'On pretext of the dissolution of the said monastery . . . a great part of the church of the same late monastery or priory . . . has been now utterly taken away thence and the lead stones and timber thence are being turned to our own use and sold.' (fn. 27)
A wall to enclose what was left of the church was then erected on the site of the west wall of the pulpitum and a length of 87 ft. of the nave west of it was filled up with earth to form a burial-ground, for the king says in his grant:
'We ordain . . . that all the vacant land and soil containing in length 87 ft. and in breadth 60 ft. of assize next adjacent to the said parish church . . . by us prepared on the western side of the same church shalbe for the future received and reputed for the burying-place of the said parish church of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle the Great.'
During the rebuilding of the lofty premises at the west end of the graveyard in 1906–1907, (fn. 28) the whole of the site of the nave from the graveyard to Smithfield was laid bare. An ancient brick wall, some 4 ft. thick, with chalk foundations 6 ft. below the present graveyard level, was found and removed. It ran from north to south and had apparently been built at the time of the suppression to act as a retaining wall to the graveyard which was formed at that time on the east side of it. On its west side was a basement with brick sides and floor. The wall on this side was buttressed by two short walls 4 ft. in length and 5 ft. 6 in. in width, and between them was a wall 2 ft. thick, running westward, dividing the basement into two cellars. At the north end of this brick wall was found a portion of the north wall of the nave, giving support to the south wall of one of the Cloth Fair houses.
Fragments of Purbeck marble shafts were found below the footings of the ancient brick wall, evidently thrown into the trench at the time of the destruction of the nave. These fragments have been placed in the cloister, together with another fragment from the nave found in the rough filling in of the east cloister doorway. The latter consists, apparently, of a canopy of a thirteenth-century tomb and retains much of its ancient colouring.
Beneath the floor of the basement of the house just referred to, what appeared to be the original floor of the nave was uncovered. It was without tiles and was much indented in such a manner as might be caused by the fall of heavy stones during the destruction of the nave.
The Floor Levels. (fn. 29)
The floor levels of the church are somewhat perplexing because the bases of the piers vary in height in almost every instance. Those of the main arcade on the south side are on the average about 3½ in. to 4 in. below those on the north side, apparently due to settlement, if we assume that Prior Rahere's and Prior Thomas's work were originally level. There are, however, at the present time no other signs of a settlement visible on the south side, as there are next to the crossing on the north side.
First, it was, apparently, found necessary to pitch the floor in relation to the bases that had sunk the most, with the result that a level had to be adopted some four or five inches below that of Rahere's church.
Secondly, the architects ignored or did not realize the fact that Prior Thomas had stepped up his floor at the compound piers five inches, with the result that the bases of the western bay of the quire and of the crossing were pitched in 1864 nine to ten inches below the original level.
It was an unusual arrangement for the western quire to be at a higher level than the eastern or presbytery. We assume that Rahere in laying his floor did not allow for a rise of the level of the ground outside, which had actually occurred when Prior Thomas continued the work. Prior Thomas, therefore, instead of pitching his floor 5 in. lower than Rahere's to form a step up to the presbytery, reversed the process and made a step down, as clearly shown in the plinth of the compound piers. That this higher level from the compound piers westward was continued is shown by the floor indication at the base of the mural shaft now exposed at the Smithfield gate corresponding with that originally in the western quire.
Apart from the difficulties arising from the differences in the levels on the north and south sides of the quire and from the restorer's work of 1864, there is the question why, whilst the bases of three of the four piers of the crossing are 2 ft. above the present floor, that of the south-east pier is only 1 ft. 4 in. above it, and 1½ in. below that of the west side of the compound pier. This can hardly be accounted for by a settlement, as the south arch of the crossing shows no signs of having been disturbed, as has the north arch; and the shafts of this south-east pier are 5½ in. longer than the south-west pier in consequence of the lower base. Whether this lower base was so built intentionally, to correspond approximately with the compound pier, or for what cause, there is no means of knowing. The corresponding pier on the north side (the north-east pier) has a base 2 ft. on its western side and 1 ft. 6 in. on its eastern side above the present floor level, but this proves nothing, as there is ample evidence of the base having been rebuilt.
The next difficulty is that the bases of the two western piers are higher by 7½ in. to 8 in. than the base of the south-east pier. We know of no explanation unless it is that the three western stalls and the return stalls were required to be on a higher level than the eastern stalls, which would mean another step up half-way along the quire stalls, and a step down through the pulpitum; but we have met with no parallel case to justify such an assumption.
Subsequent alterations in the levels present no difficulties. In the fourteenth century it is probable that the floor of the eastern quire and of the ambulatory was raised to accord with the western level; this is indicated by the height of the threshold of the fourteenthcentury opening at the east end of the north ambulatory, by the apparent level of the floor of Walden's chapel, and by the height of the commencement of the plaster on the walls.
The Lady Chapel floor, when rebuilt in 1335, was raised about 2 ft. from Rahere's floor level, or 1 ft. 7 in. from the raised level of the ambulatory (2 ft. 5 in. from present floor level), to accommodate the crypt at its eastern end, and the chapel was probably approached by three or four steps from the raised level in the ambulatory. The floor of Walden's chapel, judging by the design of the bases, was at this time at the same raised level, and there would have been three steps up to Bolton's door and two to that of the sacristy.
At the time of the formation of the square east end, about the year 1405, the level of the floor of the presbytery was raised a further 1 ft. 10 in., or some 2 ft. 3 in. above that of Rahere's work, as is shown by the base of Rahere's tomb; (fn. 30) no doubt to give greater prominence to the high altar. And so matters stood at the time of the suppression.
'The charges of the raisinge of the flower of the said church and new sittings and mendinge of the pewes xil: xixs: viiid.' (fn. 31)