A History of the County of London: Volume 1, London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1909.
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6. THE PRIORY OF ST. BARTHOLOMEW SMITHFIELD
The honour of founding the priory of St. Bartholomew appears to belong jointly to a clerk named Rahere (fn. 1) and to King Henry I, (fn. 2) for though the means were supplied by the king, it is to the enthusiasm of the clerk that both the origin and success of the scheme must be ascribed. According to an account written by a canon of the priory, apparently within seventy years of the foundation of the house, (fn. 3) Rahere spent his early life more like a courtier than a priest in attendance on the great nobles of his day, but experienced a change of heart while at Rome on a pilgrimage. He then fell ill and vowed, if he recovered, to found a hospital. Afterwards he had a dream in which St. Bartholomew appeared to him and directed him to build a church in his honour at Smithfield. (fn. 4) On his recovery and return to England he obtained this land from the king, (fn. 5) through the good offices of Richard bishop of London, and on it he built a house and church for a community of regular canons of whom he became the first prior, and, in close proximity, a hospital for the poor.
The author already quoted says this event took place in 1123, (fn. 6) and there seems no reason to doubt his statement, (fn. 7) though he is clearly mistaken in assigning the consecration of the cemetery by Bishop Richard to the thirtieth year of Henry I, as the bishop died in 1128. Rahere's position was a very difficult one, for in addition to the ordinary anxieties attendant on the establishment of a new foundation he had to contend with intense enmity, on one occasion a plot being made against his life. (fn. 8) The hostility towards him seems to have come not entirely from one quarter, for he intended to go to Rome to secure the support of the pope, (fn. 9) although he had already found in the king a powerful protector.
Henry gave the canons the site in West Smithfield, and the churches of Gorleston, St. Nicholas, Little Yarmouth, Lowestoft, and Belton, (fn. 10) and also granted to them in 1133 very ample charters (fn. 11) of privileges: he declared them free from all services and customs except the episcopal customs, viz. consecration of churches, baptism and rule of the clergy; in all their lands they were to have sac and soc, toll and team, infangenthef and outfangenthef; to the prior was granted the power to settle all disturbances of the peace, assaults, and forfeitures in his demesne; they were to be quit of shires and hundreds, danegeld and other gelds, building and repairing of castles, and of ferdwite, hegwite, wardpeni and averpeni; throughout all the king's dominions their goods and men were to be free from toll, passagium, pedagium, wharfage, lastage, and stallage; and the king granted his firm peace to those going to or returning from the fair held at the priory for three days from the eve of St. Bartholomew. The king provided at the same time that on Rahere's death the canons should choose one of themselves as prior, but if there should not be a suitable person there, they were free to choose one from a well-known place; and that gifts of lands were not to be alienated without the consent of the chapter. (fn. 12) The house indeed seems to have been regarded as a royal foundation, and as such protected and patronized. Henry II confirmed all the privileges granted to the canons by his grandfather, and added another that they should not be impleaded save in the king's presence; (fn. 13) Richard I laid down more definite rules with regard to the fair, granting the canons all the profits, forbidding the exaction of customs or tolls from those coming to buy and sell there, and ordering that no one should sell on the canons' land without their permission; (fn. 14) John took the canons, their men and possessions into his protection, and forbade any interference with the church which he calls his demesne chapel; (fn. 15) and Henry III in 1227 confirmed their charters. (fn. 16) But as usual the latter acted with an entire absence of fairness when the canons came into collision with one of his foreign favourites. Boniface of Savoy, as archbishop of Canterbury, was determined to exercise visitatorial powers in London. After being repulsed at St. Paul's and at the priory of Holy Trinity, he came to St. Bartholomew's. (fn. 17) The canons, dressed in their most precious copes, received him with much honour, but on hearing that he had come on a visitation the sub-prior, the prior being absent, informed him that the bishop of London alone possessed this right, and they ought not to submit to its exercise by another. The archbishop, beside himself with rage, struck the old man again and again; the canons went to the rescue of the sub-prior, and tried to drag him away; then Boniface's Provençal followers rushed into the church, and a contest ensued in which the canons came off badly, as they were not, like the archbishop, equipped in armour beneath their vestments. By the advice of the bishop of London four of the canons went to the king to complain, but he refused to hear them, and fearing the temper of the Londoners, who were furious with the archbishop, he forbade anyone to interfere in the controversy on pain of life and limb. Boniface followed up his disgraceful conduct by excommunicating the convent officials, but this sentence was shortly afterwards annulled by the pope. (fn. 18) The canons, however, never received any compensation for their sufferings, for the archbishop managed partly by threats, partly by promises, to suppress their complaints, (fn. 19) and the question of archiepiscopal visitations was decided against them by the court of Rome in 1252. (fn. 20)
The disputes of the priory with the City, both of which arose over the fair, were not marked by any violence. The prior and canons, by the counsel of the king's treasurer, William de Haverille, and of their sokereeve John de Kondres, set up on the first day of their fair in 1246 a new 'tron,' with which all weighing had to be done. (fn. 21) The mayor and the chief men of the City went on the next day to the priory and demanded that the practice should be abandoned as it was in contravention of the customs of the City, and the canons appear to have yielded the point at once.
In 1292 an attempt was made by the warden of London to deprive the priory of half the profits of the fair, (fn. 22) but the prior must have given satisfactory proof of his right to the whole, for the City never made any further claim.
The priory during this time had been steadily growing in wealth and importance. At the death of Rahere the house depended largely on obventions and charity, but the great increase in temporalities noticed between 1144 and 1174 (fn. 23) seems to have been well maintained. In London it had received the church of St. Sepulchre from Roger, bishop of Salisbury, (fn. 24) the church of St. Michael Bassishaw (fn. 25) from G. bishop of London (fn. 26) in the twelfth century, and St. Martin's, Ironmonger Lane, from Ralph Triket. before 1253. (fn. 27) In Essex it possessed the manor of Shortgrove, which it held as early as the reign of Henry II; (fn. 28) half the church of Danbury, (fn. 29) the gift of Earl William de Mandeville before 1190; (fn. 30) the hamlet of Langley, granted by Robert Fitz Roger, to whom it had been given by Henry II; (fn. 31) and the church of Theydon Bois, given by William de Bosco in the latter half of the twelfth century. (fn. 32) In co. Herts. the canons held the church of Hemel Hempstead in 1201; (fn. 33) and in 1253 the king confirmed to them the manor of Little Stanmore, the gift of William de Ramis, (fn. 34) to whom they owed also the church of Bradfield, co. Essex; the church of St. Laurence Stanmore, which had been given to them by Roger de Ramis; (fn. 35) lands in Shenley, obtained from Adam son of Elias de Somery, and Saer (fn. 36) son of Henry; and lands and rents in Tewin, given with land in Hertford, Amwell, and 'Lockeleigh' by Alexander de Swereforde, canon and treasurer of St. Paul's, to endow a chantry of four chaplains. (fn. 37) The king also confirmed to them in 1253 the church of Mentmore, co. Bucks, which had been given to the priory by Hugh Bussell and William son of Miles, and half the church of Wenhaston, co. Suffolk, granted by Geoffrey Fitz Ailwin. (fn. 38) Between 1323 and 1353 lands were added for the establishment of chantries and anniversaries in Theydon Bois, (fn. 39) co. Essex, and in London, (fn. 40) Acton, (fn. 41) Kentish Town, and Islington, (fn. 42) co. Middlesex, in which last place the priory had a holding in 1253. (fn. 43)
The priory must have been popular in the City: in 1291 it had holdings in forty-eight London parishes, (fn. 44) and it is reasonable to suppose that much of this property was derived from London citizens, seeing that in the fourteenth century bequests from them were so numerous. (fn. 45) The standing of the house is probably shown by the frequent choice of the prior as collector of the clerical tenth. (fn. 46)
The archbishop of Canterbury visited the priory in 1303, and made certain ordinances: (fn. 47) the rule of silence is to be better observed by the canons; money is not to be assigned them for their clothes, but garments are to be allotted as needed, and the officer charged with this duty is never to give them before the old ones are handed up to him; the canons who are ill in the infirmary are to be provided with suitable food according to the means of the monastery; the doors of the cloister and the houses in it are to be kept more strictly and closed at proper hours, so that the brothers may not be disturbed at service by the concourse of people. There was evidently little fault to be found with the monastery, and corroboration as to its satisfactory state is furnished by the fact that in 1306 the bishop of London, after deposing the prior of St. Mary's, Bishopsgate, put the sub-prior of St. Bartholomew's in his place, (fn. 48) and in 1308 sent to St. Bartholomew's a canon of St. Osyth's to be disciplined for his wrongdoing. (fn. 49) The injunction ordering that no liveries are to be sold without the permission of the bishop or archbishop, and that the powers granted are not to be exceeded, (fn. 50) seems to indicate that money was needed just then, possibly for building, as additions were certainly made to the church soon afterwards. (fn. 51)
It seems probable that disputes between the priory and the hospital arose at an early date, for King John in 1203 (fn. 52) declared that the hospital was at the disposition of the prior and canons, and that whoever would separate it from that church should come into the royal right; and Eustace bishop of London made an arrangement between them a few years later. (fn. 53) At length serious discord between the two houses made a settlement imperative, and this was accomplished by Simon bishop of London in 1373. (fn. 54) The authority of the priory over the hospital was maintained in a general way, viz. the brothers had to ask leave of the prior to elect a master and obtain his confirmation of their choice, and new brothers and sisters had to swear fealty to the prior. If the prior was practically excluded from interference with the internal affairs of the hospital, he was freed from all responsibility for its maintenance.
The advantages of the arrangement doubtless became more apparent to the priory at the beginning of the next century, when it experienced great difficulty in raising sufficient money for its own needs. In 1409 the monastery was in debt through the rebuilding of the cloister, bell-tower, and chapter-house, and further necessary work was prevented by lack of funds. Meanwhile its income had fallen off: inroads of the sea had seriously affected its property in the neighbourhood of Yarmouth; tenements in London, from which ten years ago an income of 100 marks had been derived, now did not yield half that sum; and through the malice of a powerful enemy the endowment of a chantry had been lost, while the obligation of maintaining two priests for celebrating masses still remained. (fn. 55) The prior John de Watford, who was present at the Council of Pisa, (fn. 56) made use of his opportunity to plead the cause of his house, and Pope Alexander, the day after his election to the papacy, (fn. 57) granted a special indulgence to penitents who during a period of ten years visited the priory on the three days before Easter and on the Festival of the Assumption, and gave alms; and he empowered the prior to choose six priests to hear confessions on these occasions. (fn. 58)
The priory, however, seems to have plunged deeper and deeper into debt. When the bishop of London visited the house in 1433, (fn. 59) he found its affairs seriously embarrassed through extravagance and bad management: its income was about £500, and it owed much more than this sum, annual pensions and corrodies alone amounting to £107. Decided measures were necessary if the priory was ever to be freed from its obligations, and the bishop, at the request of the convent, took the financial administration for the time being entirely out of the hands of the prior and convent, and appointed his commissary to receive all the revenues, rendering an account twice a year to the convent in the presence of Walter Shuryngton, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. To the prior was assigned a sum of £20 for his maintenance, to each canon 100s., and to each clerk 48s. 4d., while small amounts were also allotted for pittances and as provision in case of sickness. Beyond these expenses and an allowance of £40 for repairs to property, the whole income of the house was to be devoted to the payment of debts.
At the end of the fifteenth century there was some ill-feeling between the priory and the City, and in consequence the drapers and tailors of London determined not to take booths in the precinct at the time of the fair. (fn. 60)
William Bolton, who became prior about 1506, made extensive improvements to both priory and church. (fn. 61) He had evidently great talent as a builder, and was appointed master of the king's works by Henry VIII. (fn. 62) At the chapter of the order in 1518 the excuse made and accepted for his absence was the royal business; the same reason might possibly have been offered for his neglect to fulfil the office of visitor in the diocese of London, but in this case he was fined £10. (fn. 63)
Apparently his capacity lay all in the one direction, as when Wolsey tried to secure the see of St. Asaph for him in 1518, the king refused on the ground that though masters of the works had been promoted before, it had been not for their skill in building, but for other qualifications, such as profound learning. (fn. 64) For some years before he died in 1532 he was very infirm, (fn. 65) and his death was expected in 1527 when the friends of William Fynch, the cellarer, offered to contribute £300 to Wolsey's college at Oxford if the cardinal would help Fynch to obtain the post. (fn. 66) It is evident that outside influence was of great importance in elections at this time, for in 1529 another candidate was soliciting Cromwell's support, (fn. 67) and Robert Fuller, abbot of Waltham, who finally obtained the priory in commendam, (fn. 68) promised Cromwell to recompense him largely for his favour. (fn. 69)
The orthodoxy and the conduct of the canons must have been considered unexceptionable, or otherwise the judges of John Tewkesbury, on condemning him for heresy in 1531, would not have sent him to this monastery to remain there until released by the bishop of London. (fn. 70) It is certain, however, that Prior Robert was always prepared to adapt his views to those of the king in religious matters, for the compliance of the prior and canons can be read in the terms they secured when the priory was surrendered in October, 1539: (fn. 71) Fuller received a life grant of most of the property of the priory; (fn. 72) to the sub-prior was assigned an annual pension of £15; to each of ten canons one of £6 13s. 4d.; and to two others one of £5 each. (fn. 73) The pensions also seem to have been paid with great regularity. (fn. 74)
The number of inmates shows a great decrease from that of earlier times: in 1174 there had been thirty-five canons in the priory, (fn. 75) and there were twenty in 1381, (fn. 76) thirty years after the depopulation caused by the Black Death. The officers of the house included sub-prior, cellarer, sacristan, infirmarer, refector, and chamberlain. (fn. 77)
The income of the house in 1291 appears to have been about £152, (fn. 78) of which more than half was derived from property in London. (fn. 79) At the Dissolution its revenues were reckoned at £773 0s. 1¾d. gross, and £693 0s. 10¼d. net, (fn. 80) rents and ferms in London and the suburbs alone amounting to £451 3s. 7d. (fn. 81) Its property at that time comprised the manors of Canonbury, Acton, Renters in Hendon, Great Stanmore, Canons in Little Stanmore, and lands in Portpool, Little Stanmore and 'Shardington,' perhaps Charlton, co. Middlesex; (fn. 82) the manors of Langley Hall in Clavering, (fn. 83) and Shortgrove, (fn. 84) and meadowland in Walthamstow, (fn. 85) co. Essex; the manors of Tewin, (fn. 86) Holmes in Shenley, (fn. 87) and Walhall, (fn. 88) co. Herts.; the church of St. Sepulchre, which had very early been appropriated to the priory, (fn. 89) the church of Theydon Bois, co. Essex, which the canons had received licence to appropriate in 1335; (fn. 90) the rectories of Bradfield, co. Essex, Gorleston, Lowestoft, co. Suffolk, and Mentmore, (fn. 91) co. Bucks., and the advowson of the church of Tewin; (fn. 92) the oblations of the chapel of St. Mary, Yarmouth, (fn. 93) and pensions from the churches of Wenhaston, co. Suffolk, and Danbury, (fn. 94) co. Essex. In 1291 (fn. 95) and 1428 (fn. 96) the priory had also received a portion of 2 marks from the church of Sunbury in Middlesex.
The prior held in 1303 a quarter of a knight's fee in Bradfield, (fn. 97) and a fraction of a fee in Tewin; (fn. 98) in 1316 he held a whole fee in Little Stanmore; (fn. 99) in 1346, a quarter of a fee in Bradfield; (fn. 100) in 1428 he still held this quarter fee in Bradfield, (fn. 101) and appears to have held moreover half a knight's fee in Acton and a quarter in Islington. (fn. 102)
The church was rich in plate, possessing at the suppression of the priory more than 500 oz. of gilt plate, 370 oz. of parcel gilt, and 311 oz. of white plate. (fn. 103)
Priors of St. Bartholomew's, West Smithfield
Rahere, occurs 1123 (fn. 104) and 1133, (fn. 105) died
1144 (fn. 106)
Thomas, elected 1144, died 1174 (fn. 107)
Alan, occurs c. 1181 (fn. 108) –1204
Richard, occurs 1202–3 (fn. 109)
G., elected and resigned 1213 (fn. 110)
John, removed 1232 (fn. 111)
Gerald, elected 1232, (fn. 112) occurs 1233 (fn. 113) and 1237–8 (fn. 114)
Peter le Duc, occurs 1242 and 1251, (fn. 115) resigned 1256 (fn. 116)
Robert, elected 1256, (fn. 117) occurs 1257 (fn. 118)
Gilbert de Weledon, elected 1262 (fn. 119)
John Bacun, occurs 1264 (fn. 120)
Hugh, occurs 1274, (fn. 121) died 1295 (fn. 122)
John, occurs 1306, (fn. 123) 1317, (fn. 124) 1321, (fn. 125) 1323 (fn. 126)
John, occurs 1338, 1339, (fn. 127) and 1340, (fn. 128) died 1350 (fn. 129)
Edmund de Braughyngg, elected 1350, (fn. 130) resigned 1356 (fn. 131)
John de Carleton, elected 1356 (fn. 132)
Thomas Watford, occurs 1362, (fn. 133) died 1382 (fn. 134)
William Gedney, elected 1382, (fn. 135) resigned 1391 (fn. 136)
John Eyton or Repyngdon, elected 1391 (fn. 137)
Simon Wynchecombe, occurs 1392 and 1393 (fn. 138)
John Eyton, occurs 1394, died 1404 (fn. 139)
John de Watford, occurs 1406 and 1413, (fn. 140) resigned 1414 (fn. 141)
William Coventree, occurs 1433 (fn. 142)
Reginald, occurs 1437 (fn. 143)
John, occurs 1439 (fn. 144)
Reginald Colyer, occurs 1445, (fn. 145) 1453, (fn. 146) and 1465, (fn. 147) died 1471 (fn. 148)
Richard Pulter, elected 1471, (fn. 149) occurs 1473, (fn. 150) died 1480 (fn. 151)
Robert Tollerton, elected 1480, (fn. 152) died 1484 (fn. 153)
William Guy, elected 1484, (fn. 154) occurs 1489, 1501, and 1504 (fn. 155)
William Bolton, elected 1505, (fn. 156) died 1532 (fn. 157)
Robert Fuller, elected 1532, (fn. 158) surrendered 1539 (fn. 159)
A fine example of the common seal of the priory is attached to a charter of 1533. (fn. 160) The obverse represents St. Bartholomew, seated on a carved throne, holding a book in his right hand and a knife in his left. In the field, on the left a crescent, on the right a star, each between two groups of three small spots. The style of work is of the thirteenth century. Legend:—
On the reverse is a church, with central spire, a cross at each gable end, masoned wall imitating ashlar-work and traceried windows, standing on a ship with a castle at each end, that on the left pointed, that on the right square, on the sea. In the field at the sides the inscription:—
A seal 'ad Causas' of the fourteenth century (fn. 161) is a pointed oval, and represents St. Bartholomew standing on a corbel, holding in his right hand a knife, in his left a long cross. Legend:—