Survey of London Monograph 15, St Bride's Church, Fleet Street. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1944.
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3. THE FIFTEENTH-CENTURY REBUILDING
The fifteenth century saw considerable rebuilding at St Bride's, and before we resume the story of the parsons and their parishioners, some particulars should be given of the fabric. John Stow, writing in 1598, says the Church was 'of olde time a small thing, which now remaineth to be the quire, but since encreased with a large bodie and side Iles towards the West, at the charges of William Venor, Esquire, Warden of the Fleete, about the yeare 1480, all which he caused to be wrought about in the stone in the figure of a vine with grapes and leaves, etc.' (fn. 1) Stow is unusually brief in his reference to this Church, not even noting in his usual way the more important burials. The story of Venor (Vyner) is interesting but is not confirmed elsewhere. It is known that he was connected with the Church, since he was among those who presented the Chaplains to the chantry of St John the Baptist in 1446 and 1447 (fn. 2) and he witnessed the will of Thomas Vaux, rector, in 1458. (fn. 3) He is mentioned as Warden of the Fleet Prison in 1459. (fn. 4)
The imposing list of legacies to the fabric during the fifteenth century indicates that Vyner was by no means responsible for the whole cost of rebuilding, and it is doubtful whether Stow has not underestimated the size of the original Church, since it seems certain that the chancel was already aisled and in the fourteenth century had side chapels. But there is plenty of evidence that the nave and west tower were rebuilt in the fifteenth century, and the pictorial maps of London before the Fire show St Bride's with a nave built on the grand scale with aisles and clerestory and a commanding tower. The contributions shown in wills (fn. 1a) are almost continuous from 1408 to 1472, and the frequent mention of the nave, or, as it is more often called, the body of the Church, makes it quite clear that this was the main work in progress. It is possible that, reversing the usual order of events, the western tower may have been rebuilt first, for in 1410 William Bette contributes 'to the work of the bells newly bought', (fn. 5) and in 1416 John Vowe (fn. 6) and in 1419 Thomas Bannam (fn. 7) leave money 'to the fabric of the bell-tower'.
The main work must have been well advanced by 1445 when Joan Cressey left 20s. for the history of Job to be wrought in stained glass in one of the windows. (fn. 8) Four years later William Broke provided for the glazing of four windows of the clerestory on the south side of the nave, (fn. 9) and Austyn Hawkins also left a bequest for the clerestory windows. (fn. 10) In 1452 John Brooke made provision for painting a Saint Christopher over the south door, (fn. 11) and in 1456 Richard Clarence contributed towards the paving of the north aisle. (fn. 12) A legacy for a wax candle before the statue of Our Lady of Pity in the nave, left by John Taillour alias Hore, indicates a step in the furnishing of the Church in 1460, (fn. 13) and in 1463 Richard Benworth desires to be buried in the north aisle 'before the window of the Salutation of the Blessed Mary lately reglazed' at his own charge. (fn. 14) After 1472 the bequests are few, but among the later wills we may perhaps note the contribution by John Talbot, in 1524, towards a pair of new organs in the rood loft, (fn. 15) and that of Ellen Ashton in 1603 towards a gallery. (fn. 16)
Some idea of the extent of the Church can be gathered from the references to its chapels and altars in the wills of parishioners. There were at least six altars in addition to the High Altar dedicated to St Bride, or St Bridget as the patron saint was more commonly known. This is made clear by the will of John Bonde (1518), in which he makes a bequest to the High Altar and then leaves 10s. to 'the six other altars'. (fn. 17) Moreover, John Snowdon, in 1531, mentions five altars beside the Lady Altar. (fn. 18)
These six appear to have been as follows:
(1) The Altar of St Mary in the Lady Chapel which had been built by the founders of the Brotherhood or Guild of St Mary and lay on the north side of the chancel. This position is mentioned in the guild certificate and is corroborated by a will of William Warner (1520–1), who desires to be buried on the north side of the churchyard next the cross by the Lady Chapel. (fn. 19) Burials in this chapel were continuous from 1361 to 1555, and there are frequent references to its altar and to the chaplains serving there from 1316 when William de Graham left money for prayers for the soul of Adam Mason to Wigan's and Spuryer's foundations in aid of the guild. (fn. 20) In 1361 John Gilbert, baker, desires to be buried in the Chapel of St Mary before the image of St Katherine, which image he had given in his lifetime. (fn. 21) We shall see that later an altar to St Katherine was placed in the nave. The Lady Chapel was supported and served by the Guild of St Mary.
(2) The Altar of St John The Baptist. This probably occupied a chapel on the south side of the chancel, and a torch was left to it by Roger Hunt, tailor, as early as 1387. (fn. 22) The first burial in the chapel is noted in the will of William Ramet, Chaplain, in 1414, (fn. 23) and the last was that of Elizabeth, widow of William Chauntrell in 1527. (fn. 24) The chaplains who served the chantry of St John are given with those of the Uggeley chantry, with which it is generally identified.
(3) The Altar of St Anne may also have been at first in the south chancel aisle, and perhaps removed farther west at the completion of the nave. Richard Ickford leaves half a mark to the Altar of St Anne in 1414, (fn. 25) and Maud Savage desires to be buried in St Anne's Chapel in 1415. (fn. 26) It was evidently a favourite place for interment at St Bride's, and we have a long list of such burials up to that of Anne, widow of Christopher A'Lee, cutler, in 1559. (fn. 27)
(4) The Jesus Altar is likely to have been another nave altar, perhaps in the north aisle. There are references to it in wills from the gift of an altar cloth of drapery in 1499 by Agnes Gownshene (fn. 28) until the year 1521. It was in the care of a brotherhood.
(5) St Katherine. This was one of the nave altars set against the rood screen, since the printer Wynkyn de Worde, in his will of 1534, directed that he should be buried before the altar of St Katherine, in the body of the Church. (fn. 29) His successor, James Gavour, bookseller (will, 1545), wished also to be buried before this altar 'near unto Wynkyn de Worde, sometime my master'. (fn. 30) The first reference to the altar is in the will of Agnes Clerke alias Page, widow (1433), who left ten marks to supply a chaplain to celebrate for the souls of John Page and Simon Clerke, her two husbands, at the altar of St Katherine. (fn. 31) No doubt when this altar was dedicated, the image that was formerly in the Lady Chapel would have been moved to the nave.
(6) St Michael. This was probably the second nave altar against the screen. It is mentioned twice only, by John Manfield, brewer, in a will of 1467 (fn. 32) and Christine Parnell, widow, in her will of 1518. (fn. 33)
These would account for the six altars, four set in chapels of their own, flanking sanctuary and nave, and the other two in the nave beside the doors in the rood screen. There is a single reference to an altar of St John the Evangelist before which Joan, widow of George Cressey, goldsmith, desired to be buried in 1445 and to which she left torches. (fn. 34) This may have been a mistake for St John the Baptist or a mis-description of the image of St John the Evangelist before whom John Oliver, brewer, wished to be buried in 1485. (fn. 35)
Beside the images of St Katherine and St John the Evangelist, mentioned above, there were others to St Nicholas (1371, 1398 and a fraternity of the same, 1447, 1452), St Anthony (1521), Our Lady of Pity (1460), and Our Lady of Bethlehem (1499). There was also a light of St Christopher (1375) and many bequests to the rood loft, referred to generally under the name of Holy Cross (1378–1545).
From the foregoing it seems plain that St Bride's Church when completed was a fully developed example of a Church of the perpendicular period, with a clerestoried nave, north and south aisles, chancel having both north and south side chapels and a lofty west tower. The main entrance was on the north, from Fleet Street, and here was a two-storeyed porch, for James Palmer, the vicar in 1645, asks to be allowed to keep his room above the porch. (fn. 36) With its six altars, its rood screen and its stained glass it was no doubt fully adorned and furnished as such a Church should be. And on its walls and along its aisles would be the memorials of its parishioners, the former citizens who had given of their wealth to fashion and beautify their parish Church. The names of some of these benefactors will appear in the following chapter.