Description of the buildings of Morden College

Pages 14-25

Survey of London Monograph 10, Morden College, Blackheath. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1916.

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THE plan consists of a quadrangle, about 100 feet by 80 feet, around which, on the ground floor, runs a covered walk beneath the upper rooms, which are supported by a fine colonnade. The axial lines correspond with the points of the compass, the main entrance being on the west, and the chapel, with its vestibule, immediately opposite on the east side. The setting-out of the plan is excellent, architecturally, and is well worthy of study. The projections are the legitimate expression of the requirements of the plan, and the positions of the chaplain's and treasurer's houses are well contrived to give them their requisite importance on the main front as well as to provide them with access to the quadrangle behind. The accommodation for the clerk and another official, both of whom are allotted more space than the members, is provided at the side of the vestibules and in the rooms over them.

The kitchens and the recreation room, again, project from the main line of the building, while their passages, which originally led to gardens (see Kyp's view, Plate 27), occupy an extra space equivalent to that given, at the western ends of the north and south ranges, to the chaplain and treasurer. The servants' quarters are above the kitchens, and over the recreation room was housed until quite recently the nursing staff (for sick and infirm members), now occupying rooms in the north-west portion of the treasurer's house. The treasurer has for some time now vacated his quarters in the College and they have been converted into an infirmary.

Elevations; Bell

The main front towards the west is a symmetrical composition in brick, of two storeys in height above the basement, the central portion of which stands recessed between the two wings, and marks the position of the quadrangle behind. The projections at either end, enclosing the treasurer's and chaplain's houses respectively, have their angles quoined in stone, as have also the projections which mark the entrance and the suites of rooms on either side of the vestibule. The latter lead up to the main pediment, at roof level, which with its niches emphasizes the central part of the composition. Above, and set between the twin parallel roofs which cover the main building, is a clock turret, re-modelled in 1755 (fn. 1) (Plate 5), with a bell inscribed:— 1699. SIR JOHN MORDEN. Upon this bell the hours are struck.

On the west front the ground and first floor windows—sashes with broad frames, key-blocks, and louvred shutters—are separated by a flat stone string-course, and the eaves are marked by a bold wooden cornice furnished with carved modillions, which give place to plain square blocks on the return fronts of the wings. The cornice on the remaining outer fronts, which are lower than the western block, is formed of a plain plaster cove, moulded below, and finished above with a fascia and gutter.

The entrance

The central arched doorway is flanked by broad rusticated piers, in front of which are stone columns with Doric capitals, carrying sections of entablature and a segmental pediment. The oak doors are well moulded and have a postern for occasional use. Above the pediment of the doorway, and beneath the main cornice and central pediment of the building, is a cartouche with the arms of Morden quartering Brand, supported on the sides by swags of fruit and flower, beneath two small circular openings. In a double niche within the main pediment are statues of Sir John and Lady Morden, which date from some period subsequent to May 1717, when Lady Morden signed her will, leaving money "for setting up Sir John Morden's and my own effigies in the stone over the entering door into the College in case the same shall not be done during my lifetime." (fn. 2) The niches are flanked by scrolls ornamented with branches of palm, which appear to be of later character than the building.

Side doors

The two wings are treated in a precisely similar way to the central block, and have hipped roofs. On these return elevations, facing one another, are entrance doors, now disused, having arched hoods carried on carved console brackets. They are of excellent design and workmanship. A dwarf wall encloses a narrow parterre between the wings, and although the brick work appears more modern than the rest of the work, it is evident, if we may trust Kyp's view (Plate 27), that such a wall formed part of Wren's original design.

The quadrangle

The quadrangle is entered through a vestibule, lined with the delight-fully broad and reposeful panelling of the period, and here the real beauty of the design reveals itself, displayed most naturally in this inner theatre of the college life. Absolutely symmetrical, the courtyard has a colonnaded piazza surrounding it, the central bays on each side being marked by piers that carry pediments at cornice level. The main wall of the building above is carried by stone columns of the Doric order, raised on high bases, which support timber bressummers, masked by a complete entablature. A triglyph occurs in the frieze, over each column, and a carved truss or bracket over each pier. The piers have moulded capitals beneath the entablature, and are panelled, but on the first floor they are marked by simple stone pilasters up to the eaves, which is furnished with a moulded and blocked cornice. The windows on the upper floor are similar to those on the west front.

From the stone-paved piazza, the suites of rooms for the members are entered by two-panelled doors, with moulded frames, and in the East walk is the vestibule which leads to the chapel. This, as befitting its purpose, is of richer detail than the opposite one through which the quadrangle is approached. The proportions of the building surrounding the courtyard give it great beauty, and the whole design is obviously the work of an artist, presenting an effect which is scholarly and at the same time full of picturesque interest. The four little central pediments, breaking the long line of cornice just where required, prevent a wearisome uniformity, the pediments being again varied by their alternate curved and straight outlines, and forming a contrast with the walls and roofs by their white-boarded surface. The difference in height at the eaves and the consequent ramp of the cornice towards the western range are due to the greater height given to this, the most important part of the buildings.


Upon one of the chimneys is a sundial facing the quadrangle, set up by the trustees in 1725 "for keeping the clock right which often goes wrong." It forms an elaborate little tablet, with a curved voluted cornice, side scrolls, and brackets below, and bears, in addition to the date of the foundation (1695), the motto SIC UMBRA SIC VITA over a sun in splendour, from which the metal gnomon springs. The sundial is of stone, painted and gilt (Plates 11 and 40).

In the centre of the quadrangle is a fluted Doric column in iron, from the top of which are scrolls carrying lanterns, designed originally for oil lamps but now converted for gas. A vase finial surmounts the column (Plate 40).

North and south of the flagged pathway which traverses the quadrangle from the main entrance door to the chapel vestibule are shallow wells from which the old fire engine (Plate 48), made about 1751, used to draw its supply. (fn. 3) These are now used as fountains and the fire engine is relegated to a small shelter in the rear of the chapel.

Chapel vestibule

The chapel vestibule is panelled and provided with oak benches with turned baluster legs; the cornice of the panelling and the spandrels of the archway from the cloister walk are elaborately carved. On the left are two doorways, the first opening on to the gallery stairs and the second to a cupboard. The chapel is entered by an elliptically arched doorway with charmingly wrought cherubs' heads in the spandrels and key block, and an enriched cornice and arch-mould. The folding doors are each of three panels, and are hung to side panelling divided in a similar way, the central panel of each being filled with carved and pierced floral ornament. The tympanum beneath the arch and over the doors is a plain moulded panel. The whole vestibule and its doors present a very charming example of the effective joinery and carving of the time.


The chapel itself is a rectangular room, measuring 42 ft. by 20 ft., and is lighted by three windows on each side, and a semi-circular-headed window at the east end. The sill of this was formerly lower, but has been raised above the reredos, the old jambs being still visible below the roof behind the east wall. The plaster ceiling is in the form of a continuous segmental vault, relieved by plain sunk panels. The reredos is of richly carved oak, the central portion rising to a height of 18 feet and partly hiding the window. It is formed of two circular-headed panels enclosed in carved bolection mouldings, set side by side and inscribed with the commandments. Above the panels is a cleft pediment enclosing an elaborate shield with the royal arms (Stuart) surmounted by a crown, and supported by festoons of carved fruit and flower. The spandrels above the panels bear cherubs' heads. On each side of the central portion of the reredos is another panel enclosed by a similarly carved moulding and surmounted by a curved pediment, inscribed respectively with the Lord's Prayer and the Creed. Above the pediments are shields surrounded by bunches of carved fruit, which continue in festoons. The shield on the north side bears the arms of Morden and that on the south those of Brand. The altar rails are of carved and twisted balusters supporting an enriched rail. The communion table is contemporary with the chapel, being of oak with twisted baluster legs, carved and moulded rail, inlaid top, and curved stretchers below.

On each side of the chapel are box pews of oak with doors of two raised panels. The walls are wainscotted as high as the sills of the windows, and on the south side is a fine pulpit and sounding board. The pulpit is hexagonal in plan with carved cornice and base mouldings, with a curving soffit terminating in an hexagonal pillar. The panels on the sides are inlaid and have bold bolection mouldings, the central one having a carved frame and bearing the monograms of Sir John and Lady Morden. The sounding board is also hexagonal, with richly carved cornice and inlaid soffit, and is carried by two carved console brackets fixed to a panelled back. The stair has turned newels and balusters.

At the west end of the chapel is a gallery with panelled front supported by square pilasters, with panels filled with carving. The centre of the gallery was brought forward, in 1905, on brackets to accommodate the new organ.

The east window is filled with fragments of painted glass presented by the Hon. J. T. Leslie-Melville, one of the trustees, in 1850, the record of the gift being inscribed on a panel in the vestibule. (fn. 4)


The burials in the vault beneath the east end of the chapel numbered, according to the General Register, ten. It records them as follows, commencing from the north:—

Sir John Morden, d. 6 September 1708. Aged 85.
Lady Morden, d. 26 June 1721. Aged 83.
John Bennett, Treasurer, d. 25 April 1782. Aged 66.
Mrs. Mary Lucas (née Bennett), d. 31 March 1786. Aged 60.
Mary Smith, wife of the Treasurer, d. 5 June 1835. Aged 50.
Henry William Smith, Treasurer, d. 8 November 1872. Aged 85.
Rev. John Watson, Chaplain, d. 30 November 1818.
Alexander Bennett, Treasurer, d. 19 October 1819.
Mrs. Bathshua Bennett, d. 18 May 1854. Aged 57.
Joseph Brand, Treasurer (much decayed, inscription illegible).


There are memorial tablets on the walls to the following:—

North wall :—

Dionysia, wife of the Rev. William Marsh. 1858.
Revd. William Marsh. 1842.
Mary, wife of Henry Smith. 1835.
Revd. William Marsh, Jr. 1862.

South wall :—

Revd. William Collett. 1865.
Henry William Smith. 1872.

In another grave beneath the chapel was buried Thomas Brand, brother of Lady Morden, and Mary his wife, in whose memory their son, Nathaniel Brand (treasurer of the College), cut the following inscription on a floor slab of dark marble:—

Sub hoc marmore depositæ sunt reliquæ
Fratris Sussannæ Uxoris Johannis Morden Bart
qui hanc capellam et collegium
Jam pro animarum salute quam pro
Corporum sustentatione mercatorum condidit
atque etiam
MARIÆ BRAND conjugis charissimæ
THOMAS 13° Aprilis

anno ætatis 75
connubii 47
salutis 1719

MARIA 13° die Junii

anno ætatis 75
Christi 1724

Nemo ante obitum felix

On the east wall of the chapel are two hatchments, bearing the arms of Morden and Brand, on a shield and a lozenge respectively.

Commumon plate

The communion plate is of silver-gilt (fn. 5) and contains the following pieces:—

1. Flagon; height 10 ins. (with cover 11½ ins.), the arms of Morden and Brand inscribed on the cover within scrollwork, and on the side IHS with emblems of the Passion within rays of light. Date mark 1701–2; maker's mark R.O.

2. Chalice; height 83/8 ins., inscribed with same arms and hall marks.

3. Paten with foot; diam. 7 1/16; ins., inscribed with arms on upper sur-face, and IHS beneath, all as on the flagon with same hall marks.

4. Alms dish; diam. 8½ ins., engraved with the arms of Morden and Brand on a lozenge within scrollwork. Date mark 1710–11; maker's mark B.

[Members badge]

Besides its plate the College possesses eight of the silver badges formerly worn by the members, one of which adorns the binding of the " General Register." These measure 2½ ins. by 3½ ins., with hooks for attachment to the gown, and consist of an oval cartouche, wreathed with foliage, and bearing the arms of Morden and Brand in fairly bold relief.

In a glass case attached to the pulpit stairs are the "Remains of a banner used at the funereal obsequies of Sir John Morden," as recorded on an inscription on the case.

The eastern external elevation of the College, from the centre of which the chapel projects, presents no marked architectural features. The sash-windows are spaced in pairs, and the eaves are marked by the plaster cove, which has been described on the north and south fronts, and which returns along the side walls of the chapel. The east end of the chapel is, however, treated as a gable, and against it is a low modern building with a lapped roof and a low gable in the centre. This contains a vestry, heating chamber, and a covered store shed in which is preserved the old fire engine.

Modern additions

to the College, the largest block is that at the north-east angle, while smaller extensions have been built to the south-east. The former comprises the Kelsall Library, the dining hall, and the billiard room. The dining hall is approached by a passage from the east walk of the quadrangle, and over the entrance to the passage is a stone framed in oak bearing the following inscription:—

An Anagram & Acrostic in Memory of the Honoble
SR Iohn Morden of Wricklemarch in ye County
of Kent Baronet, The Founder of this Blessed Worke
of Charity for Decayed Merchants Ano Dm'i 1695
The Anagram is I honor mend
I i cannot give a fairer character
O of him then what his actions do infer
H how bright an aspect hath this charity
N nothing can shine with greater oriency
M most strive to rival Heav'n in Power & be
O on terms of Grandeur like the Deitie
R regardles of those beames of Majestie
D do from true goodness spring To Glory tend
E Exceeding Alms wil forth its odours send
N none but the good can say I Honor mend.

This stone is said to have been dug up in a field near the College.

In the modern dining-room are hung three portraits—of Queen Anne, Sir John and Lady Morden. The painter of the first is not known, but the two others are by Lely, and these are reproduced on Plates 24 and 25. There are also two water-colour drawings of the College, one of which is the work of J. C. Buckler, and is dated October 1849. Hanging on the same wall is a print from the former of the drawings, and a lithograph by Frederick Calvert. The dining-room also contains alarge framed piece of tapestry which formerly hung on the west wall of the chapel. It measures some 18 by 10 feet, and represents a landscape with figures, stated by Treasurer Smith to represent David returning from the slaughter of the Philistines, and to have been worked by Lady Morden. Over the fireplace are preserved some of the trophies used at the funeral of Sir John Morden, including the helm, gauntlets, sword, and spurs.

Kelsall Library

East of the dining-hall, and forming part of the same block of buildings, is the Kelsall Library, which was designed by Philip Hardwicke, and opened on December 16, 1861. It was erected to house the collection of books, drawings, and engravings bequeathed to the College by Charles Kelsall of Hythe, Hants, in 1860, together with the funds for building the library. To this collection is added the College library, inaugurated in 1825 by a gift of £50 from Henry Smith (father of the Treasurer) and Thomas Jackson of Camberwell.

Within recent years, Mr. Alfred Griffin, F.S.I., the present architect to the College, designed a billiard-room, which has been erected in the angle between the library and the dining-hall. Other minor alterations have been made with a view to increasing the comfort and convenience of the College as a whole.

Treasurer's and chaplain's rooms

The treasurer's and chaplain's apartments, in the two west wings of the College, have been subject to many alterations internally. Adjoining the former was apparently the old dining-hall of the College—a rather unusual position. Our evidence for this is in a letter from Mrs. Collett, the daughter of Treasurer Smith, to Dr. Lansdell, who quotes the following in "Princess Ælfrida's Charity" (fn. 6) :—"In my childhood the whole North wing formed the Treasurer's residence, except the great sanded dining-hall, with its massive oak tables (fn. 7) and upright oak chairs, which hall looked North, and opened by a many-panelled door into the Treasurer's small entrance-hall." She adds: "A smaller door led to our playroom and kitchens, whilst above were our eight rooms. These were presently wanted for the increased number of members, and a design was drawn by a brother of mine, then studying architecture under Barry, which produced, by carrying it up into the high roof, the compact Treasurer's house as it stood during Mr. Smith's lifetime." The hall is mentioned by Defoe, (fn. 8) and over it, he says, was a large room for the trustees, a feature common to many almshouses.

Formerly, when Nathaniel Brand was treasurer, he had occupied the south-west wing, but in 1729 the trustees permitted the chaplain to move from the north-west wing to his present quarters. The treasurer is no longer resident at the College and his apartments are occupied as an infirmary. The chaplain's house, in 1832, was cut down to two sitting rooms and four bedrooms beside kitchen and offices, but a year later extra rooms were arranged in the roof. At the same time (1833) the garden to the south of the College was divided into two by a wall, and a "necessary house" (i.e., a tool-house, which still exists), built in one corner for the chaplain's use. (fn. 9)

The two gardens were given respectively to the treasurer and chaplain for their own use, but at the present time they are both in the latter's hands. On the east side of the old treasurer's garden is a small building, contemporary with the College, and originally used as the stable. It is shown in Kyp's view. Beside it is an alcove, facing the eastern garden (Plate 48).

The burial ground

To the south and east of these gardens lies the College burial ground. Originally it occupied a small space about the stable, but in 1773 it was extended thirty feet southward, and later, in 1808, an additional strip, the whole length of the chaplain's gardens, was added. The plot is planted with fruit trees, and the headstones of the burial ground are overgrown and intertwined with foliage. Interments have taken place here from the foundation of the College until 1865, but there are few memorials of early date. The following belong to the 18th century. A low horizontal slab to John Thompson, the first College cook, is inscribed:—

Here lyes ye Body of Iohn
Thompson who was yeoman of
The movth In ye Kichen
To King Charles ye 2d he
Serued ye Said King As
Well During his Exile as
afterhis Restoration unto ye
Time of his death he
Serued also King James
The 2d & K William ye 3d
and being aged was allowd
To come hither by her
Matie qn Anne he dyed
The 30th day of september
1708 aged 79 yeares being
Admitted by Sr Iohn Mordant
Cook to this Foundation.

A brick table tomb, covered by a large moulded slab of Portland stone marks the grave of the Rev. John Plymley, chaplain to the College, who died in February 1759. The inscription is now almost effaced although the name is still just visible.

A headstone to William Pallard is inscribed as follows (partly illegible):—

Mr. William Pallard
one of the Members of this College
. . . . . Merchant in London
and several years British Consul at
Who departed this life Nov. 26, 1780
Aged 63 Years.

Another headstone to Captain Samuel Ball has this inscription:—

In Memory
of Cap. Samuel Ball
one of the Members of this College
and many Years Commander in
the Carolina Trade
who departed this Life
the 18th of August 1782
Aged 75 Years.

A headstone to the Rev. Moses Browne, chaplain to the College, is of Bath stone and is much perished. It records his death, at the age of 83, on September 13, 1787, and also the death of his "amiable wife" Anne in March 1783. The inscription proceeds to state that the stone was erected by "one of his numerous offspring." (fn. 10)

The grounds

Beyond the College, to the east, lie the well-timbered and pleasantly kept grounds. These were formed in 1851 with part of the money received from the South-Eastern Railway Company when the new line was formed which runs in a tunnel (fn. 11) close to the College.

Treasurer Smith was a prime mover in the laying out of the pleasure grounds, and in 1875 they were enlarged by the addition of an acre or more purchased from the Earl of St. Germans.

Note on the glass in the east window of the chapel.

This glass was presented by the Hon. J. T. Leslie-Melville in 1850. It is composed of three figure subjects (16th and 17th centuries), a certain number of more or less complete pieces, the design of which can be distinguished, and a mass of mutilated fragments of mediæval and later date, gathered together from various sources—English, German, Flemish and Dutch.

The figures are—(a) In the centre of the window a seated figure of our Lord, in dark blue long-sleeved tunic, pot-metal, holding a yellow chalice in the right hand. The left arm and all below the knees are missing, a fragment of white and yellow Renaissance scrollwork being substituted for the latter. The face and head, with a circular and rayed nimbus, are intact and are of elaborate detail in white and yellow shaded glass. The figure is set under a semi-circular canopy of similar architectural character to the fragment below. It is German or Flemish work of the 17th century.

(b) On the right hand of (a) is a standing figure of a civilian with beard, in a long-sleeved violet tunic, over which is a ruby tabard, both pot-metal. Covering the shoulders is a white fur tippet, with a square-cut white collar; also a double chain collar with pendant, much perished. In the right hand is a white roll. The figure stands beneath a semicircular headed canopy of yellow and blue leafage, pot-metal, supported at the sides by reddish pillars painted to represent brickwork. It is German or Flemish work of the late 16th century.

(c) On the left hand of (a) is a figure identical in setting and general treatment with (b). It is a standing figure with short white beard, wearing a white turbaned cap with ear lappets and, at the top, a yellow ball; encircling the cap is an Eastern crown. The dress is a loose long-sleeved purple tunic, tied with a white sash. Over the tunic is a dark blue mantle with yellow diapered lining. The tunic and mantle are both pot-metal. A small yellow (stain) fur tippet, open in front, covers the shoulders. In the right hand is an object resembling a reversed helmet with short plumes. In the left hand is a sceptre. The figure may represent King Solomon, and is German or Flemish, late 16th century.

Among the complete pieces are the following:—

(A) A roundel bearing a red rose, seeded yellow. Enamel, late 16th century (English).

(B) A roundel bearing three ostrich feathers, grisaille, issuing from a helm, with mantling and coronet, encircled by the Garter, all enamel. 16th century (English).

(C) Two quarries, each bearing a yellow R, ensigned with a royal crown, yellow stain, outlined in brown enamel. 16th century (English).

(D) A monogram, J. R, ensigned with a crown, as (c), on a piece of white glass, which has been part of an outer border of a mediæval window. 15th or early 16th century (English).

(E) The letter R, otherwise all as (D). Same period.

(F) A small roundel, bearing a light yellow estoile in a brown enamel field within a plain circular border of ruby, separately leaded. Late 15th or 16th century (English).

(G) A small royal crown in yellow stain on white glass. 16th or 17th century.

The rest of the window is made up of numerous fragments, ruthlessly cut to fill the geometric setting of the window. They contain:—

(A) A number of pieces of pot-metal, most of which are worked over with enamel colours, principally 17th century.

(B) Fragments of fruit and flower, shields of arms, mantling, and other heraldic accessories, in enamel colour on white glass. Chiefly German, Flemish or Dutch of the 16th and 17th centuries.

(C) White glass bearing various fragmentary designs in brown enamel, heightened with yellow stain. These include Gothic tabernacle-work, Renaissance strap and scrollwork, the upper part of a small tonsured head, nimbed yellow (15th century), and inscriptions in black letter (15th and 16th centuries) and in Roman capitals and Arabic text (late 16th and 17th centuries). All are too much mutilated to give any clue to the place from which the glass was obtained.

(D) A few pieces of grisaille, among which is a fragment of a narrow border of the 14th century.

Two heraldic fragments may also be mentioned: The head of a dragon with portion of mantling, probably from the arms of the City of London (late 16th or 17th century), and a portion, presumably, of a shield bearing five white estoiles on a black field (17th century).


  • 1. The original turret can be seen in Kyp's view (Plate 27).
  • 2. Defoe, in his "Tour thro' the whole Island of Great Britain," writes: "There is erected over Gate, since Sir John's death, his statue in stone, set up by his Lady, and since her Death, her own is set up near it, by the Trustees."
  • 3. In the General Register of the College, compiled by Treasurer Smith, is the following entry :—" 1751, Richard Chiswell, Esq., a Trustee, for fire engine and buckets, and making two basins in the quadrangle—£100."
  • 4. The glass may have been fitted, at one time, in a mediæval window, as portions retain the arched and cusped outlines of the old lights. The three small figures and fragments of inscriptions and heraldic glass are described in a note on pages 24–5.
  • 5. The plate was "guilded" in 1718 at a cost of £14 4s. 5d.
  • 6. IV., page 51.
  • 7. One of these, a fine Jacobean table with six massive turned legs, is preserved in a room in the basement of the north-west wing. Since it is considerably earlier in date than the College it may have formed part of the furniture of Sir John Morden's house at Wricklemarsh (see drawing, page 13).
  • 8. "Tour thro' the whole Island of Great Britain" (1724), Letter II., page 5.
  • 9. Vide an order quoted from the College books by Dr. Lansdell, "Princess Ælfrida's Charity," IV., page 23.
  • 10. See also page 43.
  • 11. This tunnel caused the loss of the canal and its bridge, which is seen in old views of the College lying across the entrance.