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 V - THE LADY CHAPEL AND CRYPT
The Lady Chapel is at the east end of the church. It was built in the twelfth century by Rahere, (fn. 1) and was rebuilt in the fourteenth century. No trace of the twelfth-century chapel was discovered until the year 1911, when excavations were made at the south end of the rough block of masonry which is against the west end of the north wall, just inside the iron screen of the chapel. The excavations showed not only that the masonry was part of the external wall of Rahere's apse, but also disclosed the foundations of the north wall of the twelfth-century chapel, which, after a gap of 3 ft. 6 in., runs for 9 ft. 6 in. in an easterly direction, thus locating exactly the north-west angle of Rahere's chapel. At the east end of the wall there was an indication of its turning south with a curve, suggesting, but not definitely proving, an apsidal end to the chapel. (fn. 2) Assuming there was an apse, the length indicated would have been 23 ft. 6 in. and the breadth 12 ft. 6 in.
That the original dedication of this chapel was in honour of Our Lady is clearly shown in the 'Book of the Foundation', where a vision of one of the canons in the Lady Chapel is thus recorded (fn. 3) (translated from the Latin version):
'In the east part of the same church is an oratory and in it an altar hallowed to the honour of the most blessed and perpetual Virgin Mary. Moreover, there was in the congregation of the brethren one Hubert by name of distinguished birth, versed in liberal knowledge, of advanced years and of wonderful gentleness, who, in his old age, had left all for Christ, and escaping naked from the wreckage of this world, had assumed the habit of holy religion, which by his pious character he adorned conspicuously. Being admitted to that order of brethren, he had directed all his zeal to loving God, and assiduously spent his time in prayer and reading, and excelled in justice and truth many to whom he was inferior in rank. This man used often to prostrate himself in the said oratory a living sacrifice for a sweet savour to God and His most sweet Mother. As he once prayed in this same place there appeared to him the Mother of Mercy and with honeyed lips spoke as follows: "The canons of this church," said she, "thy brethren, my loved ones, used formerly in this place, hallowed to my name, to pay me the service of a mass and rendered the devoted obedience of pious reverence. As carelessness has now crept over them, charity has cooled, so neither is the holy mystery of my Son observed here, nor are the wonted celebrations of praise offered to me by them. Wherefore from the high portal of the heavens (summo celorum cardine) by the consent of my Son I have hither descended to render thanks for the service of honour which has been paid, (but) to charge and require for neglect and to admonish my dear ones for their profit (salubriter). For here will I receive their prayers and vows and will grant them mercy and blessing for ever." So spake she and, as he beheld her, she vanished from his sight. He repeated openly what he had heard, and thereby rendered them more ready and fervent in serving the Mother of the Lord.
'Oh! of what reverence is that most hallowed place worthy; with what pious and sweet affection is it to be worshipped, where the noble Queen of Heaven, the Lady of the world, the Mother and Bride of the everlasting King, deigned to show her presence and mercifully to arouse, with gentle exhortations, the slackness of her servants to a readier praise of her name.'
The only other reference to the chapel, before its demolition in the fourteenth century, is in the year 1327, (fn. 4) when the king gave licence for the alienation in mortmain to the prior and convent of a messuage in the parish of St. Sepulchre 'towards the support of a chaplain to celebrate daily at the altar of St. Mary for the soul of Alexander de Sharford'. (fn. 5)
In the fourteenth century (fn. 6) we have a brief record of the rebuilding of the chapel in the will of Stephen de Clopton, who was janitor of the priory and also a cleric; (fn. 7) for in his will dated in January 1336 he left his shops in the parish of St. Mary Aldermanbury (which Agnes de Stanes had left him eighteen years before) 'for the maintenance of the work of the chapel of St. Mary newly constructed'. That gives a date of 1335 for the completion of the rebuilding, and with that date the style of architecture agrees. The bases of the reveals at the entrance to the chapel and of the shafts on the window jambs, and other mouldings, are characteristic of the period.
In the year 1426 Katherine Lancaster, (fn. 8) in her will, wished a torch to be used after her death 'in the service of the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary'.
In the year 1458 Alice Bysshop (fn. 9) (alias Derby) directed her executors to buy a taper 'to remain in the chapel of the Blessed Mary' after her death.
In the next year John Louth, of Louth, (fn. 10) willed to be buried 'in the chapel of the Blessed Mary' within the church (infra ecclesiam) of the priory of St. Bartholomew near and beside the wall of the same chapel on the north side by permission of the prior and convent'.
The fourth record is from the episcopal register of St. Paul's, (fn. 11) where, in the year 1510, on the occasion of the decree of the election of Robert Byley (or Beley, or Beyley) as master of the hospital, it is recorded that the vicar-general sat in 'a certain chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the eastern part of the conventual church' of the priory. (fn. 12)
The surrender of the monastery was in October 1539; it was sold to Rich in May 1544, who gave it by a deed of grant to Queen Mary in September 1555. The grant enumerates the parts of the monastery conveyed, and as the Lady Chapel is not mentioned we assume that its conversion into a dwelling-house had taken place in the interval. Sherborne Abbey suffered in the same way; and the Lady Chapel there was still a dwelling-house in 1919.
The method of conversion was to build a wall on the site of the present iron screen, to a height of 13 ft. 6 in. from the twelfth-century floor level, to carry a first floor to be formed above. The chapel floor level was then raised to the level of the floor over the crypt or charnel house, giving a cellar at the west end of 5 ft. 6 in., the crypt at the east end making a cellar of 11 ft. 9 in. in height. The ground floor was under 9 ft. in the clear, commencing 2 ft. below the inner sill of the chapel windows, and was 62 ft. 8 in. long and 23 ft. 3 in. wide within the chapel walls. The first floor above was extended westward over the ambulatory and the rafters were fixed into the east wall of 'purgatory'. The second floor at this period was probably in the roof of the chapel and was not raised until the eighteenth century. Access was given from this first floor to the easternmost bay of the north triforium of the quire, by which means the tenants of the house could attend the services of the church (fn. 13) (pl. L a, p. 78).
The Rental made for Sir Henry Rich, in 1616, described the house fully, and the description can be still followed on the plans made in 1885 before the restoration of the chapel commenced (pl. LXI, p. 120). The second story there shown, however, is not as it was at the time of the Rental, but dates from a later period, probably in the eighteenth century, when the roof was removed and the walls were raised some 7 ft. 9 in. The floor was carried westward as far as the back of the straight east-end wall of the church, and the roof was hipped back to prevent interference with the light of the east windows. This floor was 80 ft. long and projected 17 ft. into the church (pl. LXII, p. 120).
Rich made the burying ground of the canons on the south side of the chapel into a forecourt of the house, building stabling on the east side of it against what is now Red Lion Passage (part of the Cloth Fair precinct).
To turn now to the Rental, we see that Sir Percival Hart held a part of the 'mansion house' of the monastery of Lord Rich on lease, paying a rent of £26 8s. 4d., but declared to be worth at that time £40 a year. It is described as having (see plan, p. 77)
'a gate of entrance on the north side of Mr. Jervais his courte into a large courte the square whereof extendeth from the house of the said Lord Rich unto the side of the Cloth faire along the side whereof nere unto the gate is a coach house and stabling built shedwise for to contain about 6 horses.'
This is a fairly exact description of the forecourt shown in the plan (pl. XLIX), bearing in mind that the later division of the chapel into three separate houses necessitated the forecourt also being divided as shown. The gate of entrance in 1616 was probably at the south end of the east side of the court.
This door must have been in the south-east bay of the Lady Chapel, the cellar under referring to the crypt; for the building shown on the plan at the east end of the Lady Chapel (now demolished) was probably not then built. There is no other description of the ground floor and, as the hall is described as being narrow, it is probable that the northern half was not in the occupation of Sir Percival Hart, which would also account for the brick cellars being found only on the south side of the building.
The 'small kitchen on the west side of the courte taken out of the great kitchen' was the north end of the kitchen of the prior's house; the lower part of the jambs of the entrance door remain, also the sill: it is formed from a Purbeck marble gravestone, on which are the fixings of a brass, now destroyed. The statement that the 'conduite water' came into it 'by a pype of lead, the quantite of so much as may pass through a goose quill', is explained by the fact that the water conduit from Canonbury, which was formed by the canons for the supply of the monastery, came by the east end of the Lady Chapel.
The statement that' out of the hall passeth up a paire of staires' seems to refer to the hall or dwelling room of the house, though described above as 'the narrow hall'. The pair of stairs would be that shown on the plan 4 ft. 6 in. wide at the west end of the building (pl. LX, p. 120). This was a fine oak staircase which remained until the restoration of the chapel in 1886. It was described by Malcolm in 1803 (fn. 14) as 'a vast flight of stairs literally wide enough for a coach and horses', and is (indifferently) illustrated by Normanus (pl. Lb). (fn. 15) The 'prittie lodging-chamber' on the right hand at the head of the stair is shown on the plan of the first floor in the north-west corner, which at that time formed the north-east part of the triforium: the rectangular room shown on the plan was probably not formed until the eighteenth century.
'Beyond the same one little chamber for servants' indicates a room in the easternmost bay of the triforium which was built up on the church side when the east end was remodelled early in the fifteenth century. The 'chappell chamber opening into the church within a reasonable distance of the pulpit' would have been the next bay of the triforium, and being only two bays off it is fairly described as 'reasonably' near the pulpit. The 'particular' then proceeds:
This dining-room occupied the one or the two centre bays on this first floor. And 'the two lodgings' beyond, eastward, and 'the two lodgings for servants beyond them again' occupied the end bays. (The stairs shown on the nineteenth-century plan were probably additions when the house was cut into three.)
'Then coming to the stairhead again'—(continues the description)—' on the right hand wyndeth up another staire to a gallery contayning the whole length and breadth of all the building from the church to ye Cloth faire.'
For how long Sir Percival Hart occupied the house does not appear, but it must have been for a good many years. He was the eldest son of Sir George Hart of Lullingstone, Kent (died 1587), where Sir Percival resided when not in town. (fn. 16) He was twice married: first to Anne, daughter of Sir Roger Manwood, Knt., chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer, who also had a house at St. Bartholomew's; secondly, to Jane, daughter of Sir Edward Stanhope, of Grimston, Kent, whose burial here is recorded on the 23rd October 1619. (fn. 17) The fact that his first wife was the daughter of a parishioner of St. Bartholomew's the Great and that his second wife was buried here indicates a residence of some considerable period, as well as the fact that his servant, Nicholas Granway, is described in his will as early as 1611 as of Great St. Bartholomew's as well as of Lullingstone. (fn. 18)
Who was Sir Percival's immediate successor we do not know because the first rate book, 1636, is only for the 'Cloth Fair' and not for the 'Close' precinct. The next rate book, 1649, also furnishes no clue as to the occupier of the house; but the rate book of 1676 gives the name of William Rollins (subsequently spelt Rawlins), described in the Churchwardens' Accounts of 1694 as a printer; whom, by comparison with the rate books year by year until the houses were numbered, we find in occupation of the house, continuously until 1709, when Mr. Delava (described the next year as Mr. Dellew), dancing-master, appears as next door to Rawlins, on the church side. Probably the house was divided into two houses at that time. In 1712 William Rawlins was succeeded by James Rawlins. In 1716 Thomas Roycroft's name appears. He was born in the parish in 1680, and was the son of Samuel Roycroft and grandson of Thomas Roycroft, the printer of the London Polyglot Bible, whose monument is in the church. (fn. 19) As the Roycrofts' printing works were at No. 54 Bartholomew Close it is probable that at this time the house in the Lady Chapel was still being used for residential purposes. In 1719 Roycroft's name disappears from the rate book and in 1720 that of Thomas James is substituted, who had a daughter Elizabeth baptized in the church in May 1715. In 1718 a John James appears, where the dancing-master had lived, until 1725. In 1726 three names appear as occupying parts of the house, viz. Samuel Palmer, Thomas James, and John James, and we are inclined to think that it was at this period that the top story was raised some 7 ft. 9 in. to make a large workroom, as it remained to the end in 1886.
Thomas and John James were well-known letter founders. Reed (fn. 20) tells us that 'Thomas, finding that his premises at the town ditch were insufficient in strength for the weight of his operations, moved to Bartholomew Close, where he continued to the time of his death'. Row Mores, who purchased the printing materials from the widow of John James in 1772, and wrote a book on letter founders, (fn. 21) says that the foundry was disjointed from the dwelling-house and seemed to have been built for Mr. James's own purpose. He describes the dwelling-house as 'an irregular rambling place, formerly in the occupation of Mr. Roycroft, afterwards in that of Mr. Houndeslow', (fn. 22) afterwards in that of Mr. S. Palmer, and lastly in that of the two Mr. James, and was 'part of the priory of St. Bartholomew'. This sequence does not entirely agree with that of the rate books, but that could be accounted for in various ways. The foundry referred to was the small house at the east end of the Lady Chapel already mentioned, which communicated with the rooms in the Lady Chapel; it was known early in the seventeenth century by the sign of the Hartshorn. Samuel Palmer was a well-known printer and wrote a History of Printing. During the time that he was in the Lady Chapel he had for a year (in 1725) as a young journeyman the great natural philosopher and American statesman, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin thus writes in his autobiography: 'I immediately got engaged at Palmer's, at that time a noted printer in Bartholomew Close, with whom I continued nearly a year. . . . I was employed at Palmer's on the second edition of Woolaston's Religion of Nature'. (fn. 23) In the edition which bears the date 1726 is the small engraving here reproduced (Fig. 3, p. 90), which would seem to represent the top floor of the Lady Chapel, already described, in which Franklin would have worked. When the place came into the possession of the Restoration Committee in 1885 the room had exactly this appearance: the compositors' racks were still standing, although it had been used as a fringe factory. Whilst working at Palmer's, Franklin mentions that he had seen the practice of the art of letter founders 'at the house of James in London', which is natural, seeing that the factory was under the same roof.
In the year 1730 Palmer's name disappears from the rate book, though he did not die until 1732. In 1734 the name of T. James still appears, when he also signs the rate book, but in 1738 his widow Elizabeth James paid the rates and continued to do so until 1748. In 1752 another John James, also a letter founder, appears on the books and so continues until 1771 when 'widow James' pays the rates.
From the year 1726, if not before, the chapel was divided into three houses, which in later years (1833) were numbered 40, 41 and 42 Bartholomew Close. No. 40 was the small house at the east end, together with the fourth bay of the Lady Chapel. No. 41 was the second and third bays; No. 42 was the first bay with the rooms projecting over the ambulatories. In the year 1790 we learn from the vestry books that No. 40, then 'in the occupation of John Barlow, late of John James', was in ruinous condition and was to be presented to the Court of Aldermen as a nuisance. (fn. 24) The rate books (fn. 25) continue to give the names of the various tenants of these three houses onwards, but they are of no interest until the advent of the fringe-makers in 1833. Robert Burgh, described as a lace and fringe maker, who had been previously in occupation of No. 45 Bartholomew Close, was granted a lease of Nos. 41 and 42 in the Lady Chapel, but in consequence of the fire of 1830 the lease was 'subject to any rights of the churchwardens to prohibit rebuilding over the aisle or porch'. (Sarah Barlow was at that time the tenant of No. 40.) Burgh seems to have continued his business here until 1863, when James Stanborough, also a fringe-maker, was granted a lease of Nos. 41 and 42, which were made into one house again. (fn. 26) Had the Restoration Committee been able at that time to secure this lease a large sum would have been saved to the church. The Lady Chapel at this time had been in secular occupation for nearly 350 years. During that period all signs of the building having been part of the church were obliterated; even the exterior buttresses, built of flint and stone, were plastered over. Square-headed domestic windows replaced the old ones and everything possible had been done to make the chapel resemble first a dwellinghouse and then a workshop. So far was its appearance as part of the church altered, that Malcolm, usually a careful observer, did not, in 1803, recognize it as such. Led by the thickness of its walls, being, as he says, thicker than those of many fortifications, he considered the building to be the prior's house with the infirmary on the top floor; (fn. 27) but Carter, in 1809, correctly described it as 'our Lady's Chapel' (fn. 28) though filled with three floors and a cellar (pl. La, p. 78).
In 1864 a great effort was made by the Restoration Committee to purchase that part of the fringe-maker's factory which projected into the church; but it was not until 1885 that success was obtained, when the building and the ground on the south side were purchased by the new Restoration Committee for £6,500. (fn. 29) The intruding portion of the factory was at once cut off by a wall and demolished, enabling the remainder of the apse to be restored. (fn. 30) The rest of the chapel had to be left in its debased condition for a further twelve years whilst the restoration of other parts of the church was proceeded with. It was left till last for the reason that, although there was too much original work to destroy, there was but little left to restore.
In 1891 the architect reported that the building was in a pitiable condition and might fall at any time; but it was not until 1894, when the great work to the north transept was finished, that the Lady Chapel could be dealt with. In that year the whole of the encroaching buildings were demolished, leaving nothing but the original pre-suppression walls and the crypt beneath.
This demolition, as reported to the Restoration Committee, (fn. 31) showed that at the east end the south-east angle alone was standing with a small portion of the flint-faced exterior, just sufficient to show precisely the position of the inner and outer faces of the east wall. On the south side of the chapel in no case were the window jambs found in position, but portions of the original walls were standing held up by the three buttresses outside. Where the fourth buttress had been destroyed there was no original wall at all. On the north side the jambs of the windows were found up to the springing of the window arches though in a mutilated condition. A portion of a jamb shaft and the back of the sedilia were exposed on the south side of the sanctuary when the fringe-maker's safe was taken away. How the original sedilia were arranged was not at all clear, so the architect has left the remains exactly as found, the new work being treated independently.
Below the cellars of the fringe factory on the southern half, (fn. 32) and 4 ft. below the twelfth-century level of the church, a tiled floor was uncovered in which some of the original tiles of the church, mixed with plain red ones, had been used; for what purpose is not known. Nothing remained of the original south wall as it was below the foundations of Rahere's chapel; but some twenty years later excavations on the northern half revealed the remains of the north wall (as stated above (fn. 33) ).
It was another two years before work to the chapel could be proceeded with, but in the meantime, in 1895, the crypt, as will be seen, was restored, and in 1896 the almshouses which blocked the two westernmost windows on the north side were secured (fn. 34) from the Charity Commissioners and pulled down, and in May 1897 the Lady Chapel was reopened. The window in the third bay on the north side was still blocked by a cottage, but in 1906 this too was secured (fn. 35) and removed. (fn. 36)
The Lady Chapel as it exists may now be described. Its internal length, measuring from the iron screen to the east wall, is 60 ft. 6 in., and its width 23 ft. 6 in. The walls at the west end are 23 ft. in height, the height to the ridge of the roof being 32 ft., and they are carried westward across the ambulatory, where they slightly converge so that they may rest on the piers of the apse. (fn. 37)
The chapel, which is entered by one step through the iron screen, consists of four bays with a three-light window in each bay. After the first bay the floor is raised four steps because of the crypt which extends under the two eastern bays. The floor is again raised a step at the third bay and also at the sanctuary, and the altar is raised by another step, making eight in all from the church floor level.
They are of the Decorated period and may well be of the second quarter of the fourteenth century. In the first window (from the west) only one stone of the sill is original; in the second the whole sill is new; in the third not more than three feet of the jambs remain. The tracery of this third window was inserted at the restoration in 1897, (fn. 38) but under some difficulty because the owners of the small cottage mentioned above, which was built in front of the window, probably early in the seventeenth century, claimed the chapel window as a party wall. The spaces therefore between the mullions had to be filled, but the small light in the head of the window was left open, being above the cottage roof, and so it remained until 1906 when, the cottage having fallen, the site was purchased and the window was opened out. The next window eastward, being within the sanctuary, was treated differently. It has double tracery, the free mullions of which are carried down to the window sill. A small portion of the shaft of the east jamb is all that remains of the original work.
The corresponding window on the south side, like the other windows on that side, is entirely new. The free mullions in this case are carried down to within 1 ft. 8 in. of the floor, where they rest on a stone bench to form sedilia. Adjoining is the portion of the original sedilia which has just been referred to. (fn. 39) The small shaft on the jamb was much injured by the fringe-maker's safe when this part of the chapel was his private office (pl. LI, p. 85).
The walls on the north side of the chapel are old, but on the south side they are new, excepting where three of the original buttresses remain standing. The shafts on the jambs of the windows on this side have been made octagonal to differentiate them from the original shafts on the north side.
The east wall of the chapel was entirely rebuilt in 1897, with the exception of the small portion of the external face some 3 ft. square (mentioned above (fn. 40) ), which serves as evidence that the new wall is built on the site of the original one and that the old wall, like the buttresses, was faced with flint.
To prevent a direct light from an east window in the chapel penetrating to the quire, and so disturbing the sombre effect of the ambulatory, no windows have been inserted in the east wall, but the chapel is well lighted from the sides. The lower half of the east wall is built of plain ashlar; the upper half has five niches with canopies and pedestals for figures within the span of a central arch which fills the gable.
The altar, which measures 8 ft. by 3 ft., has a retable and above an oil painting presented by a friend of Rector Sandwith. It represents the Madonna and Child with St. Elizabeth, and was pronounced by the late Sir Edmund Poynter, by the late Sir Alma Tadema, and other authorities to be a very fine copy of a painting by Murillo.
In the north wall, immediately on the east side of the iron screen, is a small square-headed window, externally of Tudor character. It is 8 ft. 9 in. from the floor and measures 3 ft. high and 2 ft. 1 in. wide and has a wooden lintel. It was glazed when opened out in 1897, but was not so originally. It is too small and too near the large window to have been intended for lighting the chapel. It is not a squint, because the jambs are not splayed so as to give a view either to the high altar or to the Lady altar. It is possible that it was built after the suppression to give light below the great staircase, but the window has an air of antiquity and seems to be of too careful workmanship for post-suppression times. It may have been inserted by Bolton (1505–32); if so, it was too late to have any connexion with the anchorites who were in vogue in London about the middle of the fourteenth century. It was suggested by Sir William St. John Hope that it may have lighted a passage in a stone screen at the entrance to the chapel, or a staircase to it. At Tewkesbury a small portion of such a screen still remains at the entrance to the Lady Chapel.
On the floor immediately below the window is the block of rough masonry referred to above. (fn. 41) It measures 2 ft. 5 in. in length and 2 ft. in height (in parts); it had been left beneath the fourteenthcentury floor level and was uncovered in 1897. It was that part of the external wall of Rahere's apse which was to the north of his Lady Chapel, the continuation of which upwards can still be traced in the wall above as far as the square-headed window.
The present wrought iron screen was erected in 1897 to the design of Sir Aston Webb and is the work of Mr. Starkie Gardner (pls. LII, LIIIa, p. 86). It consists of five bays formed with square bars of wrought iron subdivided with thinner ones of the same. The gates are in the central bay and above is a hammered sheet-iron frieze which is pierced and set in a broad wrought-iron frame, the lower part of which consists of a band formed of two iron plates, one placed a short distance in front of the other. On the outer plate is an inscription, (fn. 42) the letters of which are pierced through the plate into the dark intervening space, by which means the inscription never obtrudes and the lettering cannot be effaced.
On either side of the gates are two candle brackets. Above the frieze is a cresting of wrought-iron spikes, every third or fourth of which is foliated. The uprights of the screen are carried slightly above the frieze as single candlesticks.
Over the gates the frieze is surmounted by a further panel of hammered sheet iron pierced, through which run the foliated spikes of the cresting. The letters S. M. are introduced into the upper portion to denote the dedication of the chapel.
Of the original roof of the fourteenth-century Lady Chapel there still remain a moulded purlin, which retains its colouring, and a wall plate, which are preserved among other fragments in the church. The present timber roof is divided into five bays by four main trusses. The space between the beams and the principals of these trusses is filled with an open arcading of four traceried panels declining from the centre. The arcading of the truss over the iron screen has the two panels on either side of the king post filled with one principal arch, whilst the corresponding panels over the other trusses contain two arches, and the shorter panels at the ends are further subdivided, giving a rich effect. The intermediate rafters divide the space in each bay into three divisions, which are each subdivided into four square panels, with a foliated ornament in the four corners of each division.
Crypt or Charnel House.
The crypt extends under the two easternmost bays of the Lady Chapel, with which it is coeval (c. 1335). Its use was that of a charnel house. It is so called in the will of Walter Whytefeld (fn. 43) in the year 1451, where he willed to be buried 'in the cemetery of the priory of St. Bartholomew before the entrance of the charnel house (coram hostio de le charnelhose) outside the processional path in West Smythfeld'.
'Att ye easte end of ye said Chapter-howse there is a garth called ye centrie garth, where all the priors and mounckes was buried, in ye said garthe there was a vaulte all sett within of either syd with maison wourke of stone, and likewise at eyther end; and over ye myddes of ye said vaut there dyd ly a faire throwgh stone and at eyther syde of the stone was open so that when any of ye mounckes was buryed Looke what bones was in his grave, they wer taiken when he was buryed and throwne in ye saide vault, which vaut was maid for ye same purpose (to be a charnell house to cast dead men's bones in).'
In most cases there was a separate chapel over the charnel (the capella carnariae), as was the case at St. Paul's, where, as at Worcester, it was on the north side of the church. At Norwich both the chapel (St. John the Evangelist) and charnel are still standing; the one is a Grammar School, the other a playground below it; they are westward of the cathedral. At Bury St. Edmunds remains of the chapel are still standing. There were also charnels under Ripon Cathedral and Waltham Abbey, as well as under many parish churches, such as Hythe and Rothwell. (fn. 46) The majority of them seem to have been built at the same period as that of St. Bartholomew's, that is, during the fourteenth century. At Christchurch, Hampshire, however, there is a charnel under each transept, built in the twelfth century, and there is one at Buildwas, Salop, under the north bay of the north transept.
At Christchurch the charnel is entered by a spiral stair from within the transept and also from outside by a flight of steps. It has much in common with the vault at St. Bartholomew's; it has three deeply splayed windows, one of which has steps on the sill, though the outer opening only measures 6 inches.
At St. Bartholomew's the internal dimensions of the crypt—which is rectangular—are 25 ft. 6 in. in length, 23 ft. 9 in. in width, and 9 ft. in height: the thickness of the walls is 3 ft. It consists of six bays (pl. LIII b, p. 86). The vaulting was originally built with chalk blocks, of which small portions remain in the north-east and north-west corners, but they only measure 2 ft. by 1 ft. and 2 ft. by 2 ft. respectively. There were five vaulting arches and a vaulting wall rib at each end. Some of the stones of the arches were found when building the schools (in 1888) on the site of the burying-ground of the canons. The rib on the eastern wall is original, excepting where the doorway breaks it. The wall, always considered to be the west wall of the crypt, was proved to be so at the restoration in 1894 by the finding of the northwest angle with a portion of the vaulting remaining in situ. At that time all that was done to the west wall was to raise it in its southern half to its original height with stones found on the site. No signs of a floor were discovered. (fn. 47)
The vaulting fell at some time, probably not long after the suppression. It was rebuilt in concrete with stone arches, corresponding with the old ones, in the year 1895. The vault is arched with plain chamfered ribs which spring from pilasters without capitals or imposts: they have a small rectangular base and plinth. The bases on the south side are 14 in. above the level of those on the north side, showing that the original floor sloped towards the north; presumably to get rid of any water coming in through the windows, which were all unglazed.
In the second, fourth, and fifth bays from west to east in the south wall there are deeply splayed windows, the interior openings of which measure 2 ft. 2 in. in width by 4 ft. in height. The exterior openings are 1 ft. in width and 2 ft. in height: they are furnished with a heavy gabled hood moulding, and iron stanchion bars, of which one still remains, while another only fell away recently (pl. LXIII, p. 120).
In the western bay of this south wall there was originally an opening measuring 2 ft. 8 in. in width by 2 ft. 6 in. in height. It could hardly have been intended for an entrance, but may have been for a bone shoot. As no other entrance could be found, either from the chapel above, or from outside, the sill was lowered in 1895 to form a doorway 7 ft. 6 in. in height, with five steps down to give access to the vault.
In the north wall there are also three windows directly opposite to those in the south wall, the one in the centre being similar to those opposite; but the others vary in width and have had the splayed jambs and sills cut away. The window at the eastern end is 2 ft. 8 in in width and has two steps, as at Christchurch, but that at the western end has now a square sill without steps or splay. These could not have been intended for entrances as the sills are 3 ft. 8 in. from the floor.
The house or cottage that blocked the window of the third bay of the Lady Chapel on the north side, and which fell in the year 1904, also blocked this crypt window. The tradition is that access was had through it from the cottage by the tenants or their friends, who were not as honest as they should have been, and that they made off, from time to time, with bottles from the fringe-maker's winecellar. The present opening is as it was found in 1905, when the cottage was removed.
In the east wall there are two openings. The one on the southern side is similar to those in the south wall, excepting that, in the splayed sill, there is a deep groove suggesting that it was used for lowering things through this window into the crypt by means of a rope. Only the lower half now has the groove, as the upper part was missing in 1895, and was merely made good with a plain stone.
The opening on the eastern side was evidently converted after the suppression into a doorway. It measures 6 ft. in height and 4 ft. 6 in. in width and has two steps and an exterior arch. It is now as found in 1895, excepting that the outer opening has been closed with ashlar in which a small window has been inserted for the sake of light. There is an iron hinge on one of the jambs, for a door opening inwards. As the door could not have so opened whilst the vaulting was in position it must have been made after the vaulting fell.
There is a record in the year 1616, (fn. 48) that a shop, having the sign of the 'Hartshorne', which was in the alley now known as Red Lion Passage at the east end of the Lady Chapel, and then known as 'Harts horne rowe', 'contained a low chamber called the stone room under part of Sir Percivale Hart's house'. (fn. 49) This must refer to the crypt, which was probably entered through the doorway we are now considering. If this surmise is correct, then it follows that the vaulting had fallen before the year 1616. At the north end of the open area outside this doorway was found a brick arch of a passageway measuring 6 ft. 3 in. by 3 ft. This was found in 1921 to be a passage which probably led from the Hartshorne to the crypt and was not the water conduit from Canonbury as found in the Close in 1915. The passage to the crypt had, at some time, been blocked by masonry.
In the year 1885 the architect and the writer were allowed, by the fringe-maker, to inspect the basement of his premises. By crawling on hands and knees over the coals in the cellar, the deeply-splayed windows of the south wall were discovered. This disclosed the real nature of the crypt and the chapel over and led to the purchase of the whole property.
At the restoration in 1895 the crypt was made into a mortuary chapel for the use of the inhabitants of the crowded courts and alleys round the church. An altar was erected at the east end, where the Holy Communion was celebrated for the first time on the 29th June 1895. Later, on the same day, the crypt was opened as a mortuary chapel by the Duke of Newcastle, after a short service of dedication by the Bishop of Stepney.