Memorials of the Institutions: CXIV, St Helen's Bishopsgate with St Martin's Outwich

Memorials of the Guild of Merchant Taylors of the Fraternity of St. John the Baptist in the City of London. Originally published by Harrison, London, 1875.

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'Memorials of the Institutions: CXIV, St Helen's Bishopsgate with St Martin's Outwich', in Memorials of the Guild of Merchant Taylors of the Fraternity of St. John the Baptist in the City of London, ed. C M Clode( London, 1875), British History Online [accessed 23 July 2024].

'Memorials of the Institutions: CXIV, St Helen's Bishopsgate with St Martin's Outwich', in Memorials of the Guild of Merchant Taylors of the Fraternity of St. John the Baptist in the City of London. Edited by C M Clode( London, 1875), British History Online, accessed July 23, 2024,

"Memorials of the Institutions: CXIV, St Helen's Bishopsgate with St Martin's Outwich". Memorials of the Guild of Merchant Taylors of the Fraternity of St. John the Baptist in the City of London. Ed. C M Clode(London, 1875), , British History Online. Web. 23 July 2024.

In this section



1. The early History of this Church has unfortunately perished in the lapse of time; nor can any authentic record of the actual building of any part be obtained. The style of portions of the architecture, however, and the mention of it in various documents afford proof of its existence in the 13th century. No remains appear of earlier date than this, and its previous history is almost entirely matter of conjecture.

2. The fact of its dedication to St. Helen would give reasonable grounds for supposing the original Building to have been one of those Memorial Churches, erected by Constantine (the first Roman Emperor who professed Christianity) in honour of his mother, Helena, in the colony and city of Londinium, at that time under the Roman sway. (fn. 2)

3. That a Church must have been in existence previously to the year 1010, appears from a circumstance recorded, that in this year the remains of King Edmond the Martyr were removed from St. Edmondsbury, and deposited herein for three years, until the depredations by the Danes had ceased.

4. The next mention, although without date, appears in an agreement, whereby the Church was granted by the Canons of St. Paul's to one Ranulph, and Robert his son, for their natural lives, on the payment of xiid. yearly; then at their death, to a third party, to be chosen by them, on the payment of duos sol. per annum, and afterwards to revert to the Dean and Chapter.

5. In the year 1181, we find mention made of it in a list of Manors and Churches, belonging to the Chapter of St. Paul's; wherein it is stated, that the Church of St. Helen is the property of the Canons:—"et redit eis xx sol. per manum magistri Cipriani solvit Synodalia xiid, Archidiaconi xiid, habet cœmeterium."

6. The foundation of the Priory of St. Helen was laid about the year 1212, in the latter part of the reign of King John. The records state that the Dean of St. Paul's, Alardus de Burnham (who died 1216), gave permission to William, the son of William the Goldsmith, (fn. 3) to found a Convent for Nuns of the Benedictine Order; reserving the Church for all ecclesiastical purposes. Previously to this there was probably no building where the Nuns' Quire now stands: this addition for the accommodation of the sisterhood must have been made in 1308.

7. William de Basing, Sheriff of London, in the year 1308 appears to have been a liberal benefactor to the Convent, by increasing the revenue and erecting additional buildings.

8. A manuscript in the Hatton Library contains the rules of the Monastery. They are dated from the Chapter House of St. Paul's, June 21, 1439, temp. Henry VI.: these, together with a list of the Conventual Buildings at the time of suppression in 1534, will be found in Dugdale's Monasticon, Wilkinson's Londina Illustrata, and Malcolm's Londinium Redivivum.

9. In the Rules for the guidance of the Sisterhood, it was ordered, "That there be a doore at the nonnes' quere; that noone straungers may looke on them, nor they on straungers wanne thei bene at dyvyne service."

10. In the North Wall, the Hagioscope, or opening by which the Nuns obtained a view of the high altar from the cloisters, under the Refectory, still remains: this cloister ran northward, and has long since been removed, but a doorway still remains, by which access was obtained from the cloister to the Church. It is now bricked up, and, until the last restoration, was half buried in an accumulation of earth. The level of the sill is the same as that of the small door leading to the roof over the Chapel of the Holy Ghost, clearly proving that the level of the Church was at one time three feet below the present floor.

11. The close connection of the Priory with the Church to which it was annexed, necessarily gave the Church those peculiar features which make it differ so widely from others; viz., two parallel naves or choirs, 122 feet long; the northern, or Nuns' choir being 26 feet 7 inches wide within the walls; and the southern, or Church, 24 feet. This latter was, and still is retained for the services of the Parish Church; while the northern, from which it was divided by a screen, was not so used until after the dissolution of Monasteries.

12. On the south side of the church is a transept of the early English period, opening out of which, by means of two arches supported on elegant clustered columns, are the chapels of the Holy Ghost and that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the latter was built up to form a vestry (probably by Inigo Jones, in 1631). Both these chantries were founded by Adam Fraunces (temp. Richard I.) Up to the time of the Suppression, two priests did duty here, for which they received the sum of 13l. 13s. 4d.

13. Like most ancient buildings, St. Helen's is a compound of several styles of architecture, denoting the several periods in which it was built. In the second pointed arch from the East end, dividing the Nuns' Quire from the Nave, and some remains in the Chauntry, as also the doors before referred to, we may trace the oldest existing portions, being, as before stated, of the 13th Century. The general features of the Church are to be attributed to a later date; and would either be about the time of Dean Kentwode, in 1430, or probably soon after the death of Sir John Crosby, in 1475, as he bequeathed at his death the sum of five hundred marks to the Parish, for the repair of the Church: a sum sufficient to have induced other worthy and wealthy citizens to come forward and assist, according to their means, in a thorough repair, amounting almost to rebuilding. It is therefore to this period that we must attribute the introduction of the clustered columns, four centred arches, and low roof, which constitute the main features of the building.

14. In the Church, at this time, there appears to have been a representation of the Holy Trinity, and a High Altar of St. Helen; as we find Ralph Machin, in 1488, desires his body to be buried in the Monastery of St. Helen's, before the Trinity; and after sundry other bequests, he adds, "To the High Altar of St. Ellen, a fine diaper tabell cloath."

15. After the suppression of the Monastery, (fn. 5) in 1537, the Conventual Buildings passed into the hands of the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers, who after repairing, used the Refectory as their common Hall for many years, until this portion was demolished in 1799, and all vestige of antiquity destroyed. Wilkinson who records the fact, and gives a plan and view of the Buildings, states that the door leading from the Cloister to the Fratre was peculiarly elegant; the upper part being filled with roses carved in stone, and coloured in scarlet and gilt. The site of the Convent is now occupied by St. Helen's Place.

16. It is much to be regretted that Sir Thomas Gresham, who died in 1579, and whose body now lies in the Nuns' Quire, did not leave sufficient instructions to the Mercers' Company, his trustees, to carry out his intentions of erecting a tower or spire, instead of the unsightly turret which now exists at the west end, in consideration of the ground in the Church, which his monument occupies.

17. In the year 1631, the Church, having again fallen into decay, was repaired by contributions from the Company and others. (fn. 6) The works were completed in 1663, as this date still remains over the south door with: "Thomas Aldridge and William Hunt, Church Wardens." That these repairs were carried out with no niggard hand, we may well believe, as no less than 1,300l. was expended on the Building: a considerable sum at that time. It is to this date that we may attribute the porch doors, the altar piece, (fn. 7) and communion rails; works which are said to have been executed under the superintendence of the most celebrated Architect at that time—Inigo Jones.

18. At this time the great Bell was recast; for which there appears in the Parish Books an entry of 7l. 6s. 0d. for changing the great Bell, and new matterells.

19. In 1644 the following entry is to be found: "paid a carver for defacing the superstitious inscriptions, 1l. 2s. 0d."

20. This was one of the few churches that escaped the Great Fire of London, in 1666, when no less than 87 were destroyed.

21. In a Vestry Meeting held in 1696, it was agreed that Sir Christopher Wren be consulted as to the repairs of the Church, and that Parliament be petitioned for an Act to authorize the repair: a rate of 6d. in the pound was afterwards made. At this time the Bell Turret was erected: previously to this, the bells continued to hang over the gateway entrance, and when this house was relet on a term of 61 years to a Mr. Armstrong, on a fine of 100l. and 10s. per annum, he covenanted to remove the bells, wheels, and ropes in the belfry, and deliver them safe and sound in the parish church, at his own cost and charges. Three of the bells delivered in to the church by Mr. Armstrong, were ordered to be sold; and the best of the four to be kept for the use of the church.

22. In 1723, Francis Bancroft, one of the officers of the Corporation, gave 95l. for the ground whereon his monument now stands, and constituted the Drapers' Company his trustees, with funds for keeping his tomb in repair, in addition to other trusts.

23. In 1744 a gallery was built by subscription; one Thomas Griffin undertaking to build an organ of the value of 500l., in consideration of the receipt of 250l., and 25l. per annum during his life, and to play himself, or provide a substitute.

24. In 1809, considerable necessary repairs were made to the church, when the present slated roof was substituted for the old one; these repairs cost the parish 2,944l.

25. In 1841, the roof being again defective, it was covered with Bangor slates, under the direction of William Tite, Esq., Architect; and in 1863, by order of the vestry, the foundations and walls were further protected, by the introduction of dry areas round the building.

26. From the preceding statement it will be seen that various sums had from time to time been expended for substantial repairs of the fabric, and which, judging from their magnitude, should have afforded but little scope for the labours of the Restoration Committee of 1867. Such, however, was not the case, and a description truthfully depicting the sad state of the Church would at the present time (1874) be regarded as apocryphal. The plaster walls, smoke-begrimed and saturated with damp, had in many places given way; the decayed timbers of the roof had been mended with brown paper, painted to resemble wood—in one of the columns of the nave arcade no less than 17 incisions had been made;—the two westernmost bays were separated from the body of the Church by a clumsy, deep gallery containing the organ, many of the windows had lost their tracery, and the floor of the Church was so honeycombed with vaults that it forms a matter for wonderment that the whole held together as it did.

27. To remedy this state of things a Committee, consisting of parishioners and other gentlemen (including the then Master of the Merchant Taylors' Company, Mr. Foster White) interested in preserving the fabric from becoming a thorough ruin, was formed, and subscriptions for that purpose were publicly solicited, and although the by no means inconsiderable sum of 1,400l. was through their instrumentality collected, apart from the many stained glass windows that were introduced, yet this sum was totally inadequate to meet the requirements of such a heavy work; then it was that the parishioners came forward, and by means of a rate collected upwards of 2,000l. to meet the deficiency.

28. To the labours of this Committee may be attributed the following works:—The removal of the organ gallery and screen, and of Sir John Spencer's (fn. 8) monument (A.D. 1609) from south transept to the east side of the parochial nave, the substitution of the present oak benches in lieu of the previous high pews, the reparation of the carved miserere seats, and their adaptation for the use of the quire, the removal of the accumulated earth in the transept and Chapel of the Holy Ghost, thereby opening out the bases of the pillars and tomb of Sir John Crosbie, the repaving the Chancel and parochial nave with encaustic tiles, reroofing one-half of the nun's quire, together with the erection of a reredos and the organ.

29. Works of as great utility as these just enumerated and undertaken by the parishioners were the filling in and hermetically closing the large vaults which existed throughout the building, and the thorough repair of such portions of the roofs as the Restoration Committee had been unable to accomplish, and also providing the apparatus for warming the Church.

30. The numerous stained glass windows must not be passed by without mention, in that they add materially to the beauty of the Church. The names of the donors are appended to this sketch. Other windows there are which require to be filled in a similar manner; and here it may not be amiss to reply to the criticisms which have been made by archæologists and others, as to the texture and deep tones of some of the modern glass, whilst admitting that glass of a lighter texture, and approaching the "cinquo-cento" period, would be more in accordance with the style of the architecture of the building, and certainly more conducive to the transmission of the light so requisite in a city church, that the fact ought not to be overlooked that, as the pious gifts of individuals, it is frequently impossible to attempt interference with the cherished project of the donor. Could it have been foreseen by the Committee that so many costly gifts would have been subsequently added, a scheme embracing a regular iconographic series might have been prepared for that purpose.

31. In addition to contributions to the Restoration Fund several of the City Companies have with their characteristic liberality undertaken the renovation of the monuments of their predecessors; the worshipful Company of Grocers have rescued from decay the beautiful tomb of Sir John and Lady Crosbie; the Mercer's Company, that of Sir T. Gresham; the Haberdashers, that of Captain Bond; and the Skinners, the quaint little tablet to the memory of the founder of Tonbridge Grammar School, Sir Andrew Judd.

32. Such is the history (in outline) of the church of St. Helen's, until it became, under the Order in Council of 5th May 1873, the church of the united parishes of St. Helen's and St. Martin's. Under the scheme for union, the glass of the east window of St. Martin's was removed to and placed partly in the window of the newly discovered Lady Chapel, and in the eastern dormer windows of the south transept of St. Helen's. All the monuments (fn. 9) were also removed thither; then as far as possible restored and replaced in St. Helen's, in sites shown on the ground plan of the church. The names connected with these monuments are as under:—

John Oteswich and wife, cir. 1400; Hugh Pemberton cir. 1500; cir. Richard Staper, cir. 1608; Langham, cir. 1694; Clutterbuck, cir. 1697; Goodman, cir. 1714; Teasdale, cir. 1804; Edwards, cir. 1810; Simpson, cir. 1827; Rose, cir. 1821; Grant, cir. 1836; Ellis, cir. 1838; Atkinson, cir. 1847; Simpson, cir. 1849.

John Bruex, 1459, and Nicholas Wotton, 1483, being the brass effigies of two rectors on a gravestone; Thomas Wight, 1633, a brass plate on a gravestone; Tufnel, 1686, a large gravestone.

33. The annual value of St. Helen's will be 800l. and Easter offerings, and the patronage of the united benefice is vested in the Company by Part III., sec. 3, which enabled the Master and Wardens as patrons to restore, as was much deserved, the Lady Chapel and that of the Holy Ghost. During the restora- tion, the vestry room, which had filled up the entire Lady Chapel, was pulled down, and there were brought to light two early perpendicular windows, temp. Richard I., several elegant niches, piscurias, sedilia, &c., all of which have been carefully restored.

The monumental effigies of John Otewich and his wife (A.D. 1400 to 1428), being first cleansed and revived by Mr. Poole, have been placed upon a plain and simple table, between the two east Chapels, i.e., the Lady Chapel and that of the Holy Ghost.

Plan of the church of St. Helen and St. Martin, Bishopsgate

34. The accession of these monumental effigies and tablets from the neighbouring Church of St. Martin Outwich, will further enhance the quaint but solemn dignity of the fabric, rendering it still more worthy of its rightly-accorded title of "the Westminster Abbey of the East."


Subjects. Gifts of
A.—In the parochial nave, east, consisting of 7 lights with traceried head: "The Ascension" (fn. 10) Kirkman Daniel and James Stewart Hodgson, Esqs., in memory of their late father, John Hodgson, Esq.
B.—In the chapel of the Holy Ghost, three lights (fn. 10) Made up of ancient glass preserved from the other windows, at the expense of Churchwardens Rolfe and Richardson.
C.—Three lights in the Lady Chapel: "The Conversion of Constantine" (fn. 10) The Merchant Taylors' Company.
D. and E.—The upper part filled with Emblematical Glass. (fn. 10)
F.—A window of 3 lights William Jones, Esq.
G.—In south aisle adjoining pulpit, 3 lights: "St. Alban, St. Michael, and St. Edmund" (fn. 11) Mr. Alderman Colonel Wilson.
H.—In the same aisle over the south door, 3 half lights: "Christ's Charge to St. Peter" (fn. 11) Messrs. MacDougall.
I.—In south aisle, by Sir John Spencer's monument, 3 lights: "The Finding of the Cross by St. Helena" (fn. 11) William Meade Williams, Esq., in memory of his late father and mother, John and Susan Williams.
J.—In parochial nave, west, 5 lights: "The Crucifixion" (fn. 11) Subscription window in memory of Alderman Copeland, M.P., &c.
K.—In north-west corner of the Nuns' Quire, single lancet: "A Bishop in Pontificals" J. F. Wadmore, Esq., in memory of Bishop Robinson.
L.—In north aisle, 3 lights: "Faith, Hope, and Charity" (fn. 11) Messrs. MacDougall.
M.—Abbess' window, of 2 lights, north wall of Nuns' Quire; "Christ healing the lame man, and Receiving little Children" (fn. 11) Dr. Cox, in memory of 3 of his children.
N.—In Nuns' Quire, 5 lights and traceried head: "St. Helena," flanked by three of the Evangelists and their symbols (fn. 12) The Gresham Committee, in memory of Sir Thomas Gresham.


  • 1. By the Rev. J. E. Cox, D.D., Vicar in Charge.
  • 2. St. Helen, according to the British Chroniclers, was the daughter of Coel, Prince of the Britons, and born at Colchester, in Essex; married to Constantius Chlorus, at that time the Roman Governor. She early embraced Christianity; is said to have discovered in Jerusalem the true Cross; and died about the year of our Lord 326, aged 80 years.
  • 3. Know all present and to come, that I, Alardus, Dean of the Church of St. Paul, London, and the Chapter of the same Church, to grant to William, the Son of William the Goldsmith, patron of the Church of St. Helen, London, that he may constitute Nuns in the same Church for the perpetual service of God therein.
  • 4. Lineally descended from the founder was Sir William Fitzwilliam, Merchant Taylor, and servant to Cardinal Wolsey. of Bread Street Ward, 1506, from whom is descended the present Earl Fitzwilliam. See Mem. lix.
  • 5. On the Dissolution of Religious Houses the Priory was surrendered, and was valued, according to Dugdale, at 313l. 2s. 6d. Henry VIII. in the 33rd of his reign, gave the site of the Priory and its Church to Richard Williams, alias Cromwell; and Edward VI. in the 4th of his, conferred the jurisdiction of this place upon the Bishop of London and his successors, which was afterwards confirmed by Mary.
  • 6. Entry of 10th December 1632, 20l. was given because "at their great and general feast the Company do usually resort there to hear a sermon. See Appendix A (7), p. 550.
  • 7. Removed at the last restoration.
  • 8. This was done at the expense of the Marquis of Northampton (the lineal descendant of the Earl of Compton, who clandestinely married the only child of the deceased), and two splendid arches, highly decorated in rich blue and vermilion colours—now much faded—were exposed.
  • 9. As to these, see Appendix K, p. 658.
  • 10. By Heaton, Buller & Co.
  • 11. By Gibbs.
  • 12. By Powell & Co.