The Savoy

Pages 95-100

Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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In this section



"There is a power
And magic in the ruined battlement,
To which the palace of the present hour
Must yield its pomp, and wait till ages are its dower."

Early History of the Savoy Palace—John, the French King, lodged here—The Savoy attacked by the Citizens of London, and by Wat Tyler—Converted into a Hospital by Henry VII.—Assembly of the Commissioners for the Revision of the Liturgy—A Colony of Jesuits established in the Savoy—The Chapel of St. Mary—Distinguished Persons buried here—Funeral of the Earl of Bedford—The "Worshipful Company of Upholders."

A little to the west of Somerset House, on ground sloping rather steeply down to the riverside, stood what was originally the Palace, and afterwards the Hospital, of the Savoy. It was built by that all-powerful noble, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, in 1245; but in the thirtieth year of Henry III. it was granted by the king to Peter of Savoy (from whom it took its name), uncle of his queen, Eleanor of Provence, according to Pennant, "on condition of yielding yearly at the Exchequer three barbed arrows for all services." This Peter of Savoy, Earl of Savoy and of Richmond, was son of Thomas, Earl of Savoy, brother of Boniface, Archbishop of Canterbury.

From the Earl of Savoy the place passed, probably by gift, to the Brethren de Monte Jovis, that is, of the Great St. Bernard in Savoy, who had a priory at Hornchurch, in Essex; and, according to Stow, Queen Eleanor purchased the site from this fraternity and gave it to her second son, Edmund, Earl of Lancaster. This gift was confirmed by letters patent by the earl's elder brother, King Edward I., in his twenty-first year, and "from that time the Savoy was reputed and taken as parcel of the earldom and honour of Lancaster."

John, the French king, was lodged here in 1357, when brought to England as a captive by the Black Prince, after the battle of Poictiers, and here he was often visited by Edward III. and his queen. At this time it bore the reputation of being "the fairest manor in England." Six years later he returned of his own accord, and again took up his final residence at the Savoy. In Stow's "Chronicles," under the date of 1364, we find the following passage:—"The 9th day of April, died John, King of France, at the Savoy; his corpse was honourably conveyed to St. Denis, in France."

In 1377 the Savoy stood a narrow chance of being demolished by the citizens of London, who had flocked thither, "evidently bent on mischief," after the support which John of Gaunt gave to Wickliffe at a synod held in St. Paul's Cathedral. The Bishop of London, on hearing of the riot, hurried to the Savoy, and averted the danger that threatened it. But this quelling of the tumult appears to have been only temporary, for the palace of the Savoy was fired, pillaged, and almost demolished with gunpowder by a lawless mob of rebels, led by Wat Tyler, in 1381, "for the malice which they bore to John of Gaunt and his principles." And there is no doubt that they did their work thoroughly, for not only was the hall blown up and the houses destroyed, but the rebels had a narrow escape from perishing in their ruins. The leaders of the party, it appears, were so conscientious in their anger, that they gave orders that none of their men should turn anything found to their own use, but that gold, silver, and all other spoil, should be burnt. Finding, therefore, certain boxes, which they thought might contain such loot, they threw them into the flames, with the result above stated. Others of these hypocritical ruffians perished at the same time. "To the number of thirty-two," we are told, "the rebels entered a cellar of the Savoy, where they drank so much of sweet wines, that they were not able to come out in time, but were shut in with wood and stones, that walled up the doors, where they were heard crying and calling seven days after, but none came to help them out until they were dead."

THE SAVOY IN 1650. (From a very scarce Etching by Hollar.)

Reverting to the king's hands after this, we next find it beautifully restored and rebuilt by Henry VII., who dedicated it to St. John, in 1509, as a hospital for the reception of a hundred poor people. In spite of a report made by the Royal Commissioners in the fifth year of Edward VI., to the effect that there was "no default and no disorder" to be found in its inmates, it was dissolved two years later, its revenues being seized upon by royalty. The hospital was re-founded and re-endowed by Queen Mary soon after her accession, when "the ladies of the court and maids of honour . … stored it anew with beds, bedding, and other furniture in a very ample manner."

The hospital, however, fared but badly under Elizabeth. It escaped, indeed, the royal claws, but it was most unfortunate in its master, who "embezzled its revenues exceedingly, and sold away divers chantries belonging to it." Happily, he was deprived.

For a number of years the Savoy Chapel served for both the neighbouring parishioners of St. Maryle-Strand as well as for inmates of the "precinct of the Savoy."

In the time of the plague appearing, the liberty of the Duchy of Lancaster was looked upon as "some security to the Court," to keep the unwelcome visitor from making its way thither from the City; and it was accordingly entrusted to the care of bailiffs, who were charged to ward it off. And thus Stow tells us that in the year 1577, when the plague was in the City, and the Court was removed in consequence to Windsor, the Earl of Leicester appointed a bailiff to take charge of the district, and to see that it was kept closed against infection, threatening to pluck his coat from off his back in case of his neglect. We read that the Recorder Fleetwood, an active and a good man, lent his help to the bailiff in surveying the duchy, "passing constantly with all the constables between the Bars and the Tilt Yard, in both the liberties, to see the houses shut in." It is to be hoped that this primitive quarantine arrangement was successful in its results.

THE "FOX-UNDER-THE-HILL." (See page 101.)

The place, too, is not without its literary associations, for Chaucer wrote some of his poems in the Savoy.

It was here that the "Confession of Faith" by the Independents was drawn up, in the time of Cromwell and his Directory.

The Savoy is also famous in connection with the history of the Church of England, having been the place in which Charles II., after the Restoration, ordered the assemblies of the Commissioners for the Revision of the Liturgy to be held. Twelve of the chief bishops of the time, with nine assisting clergymen, took part in its proceedings on behalf of the Established Church, while the Nonconformist party were represented by Baxter, Calamy, Reynolds, and other leaders of the Dissenters. The meeting is known to history as the Savoy Conference, and its results were to confirm the High Church party in the Catholic or sacramental view of the Prayer Book (which was enforced by the Act of Uniformity), and to disallow the Presbyterian scruples.

Mr. Peter Cunningham reminds us that "at this time Fuller, author of the 'Worthies,' was Lecturer at the Savoy, and that the poet Cowley was a candidate at court for the office of Master."

The Savoy has not been exempt from sundry vicissitudes in respect to the religion of its tenants, and at one time has given shelter to exiled Roman Catholics, and at another to Protestants driven from France by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

It is recorded by Roman Catholic historians that in the reign of James II. a colony of Jesuits was established in the Savoy under one F. Palmer, as rector. He opened schools which numbered some four hundred pupils, half Catholics and half Protestants; and adjoining the schools was a printing-press. Rules were provided for these schools and published in print. It was declared therein that the intention of them was to teach youth virtue and learning; that those that came thither should be taught gratis, and to be at no further charge than of buying of their own pens, ink, paper, and books; that these schools should be common to all, of what condition soever, and none to be excluded when they should be thought fit to begin to learn Latin and wrote sufficiently well. "In these schools to be taught Greek and Latin, poetry and rhetoric. And whether Catholics or Protestants came to these schools, yet in teaching no distinction to be made, yet all to be taught with equal diligence and care; and neither by masters or scholars any tampering or meddling to persuade any one from the profession of his own religion. But few there were but did believe—nay, could not believe otherwise than that this pretended charitable project was for the advantages hereby to be compassed for the promoting the Roman religion. These schools were soon dissolved upon the ceasing of the Government of King James; and the clock that was made for the use of the Savoy School was afterwards bought and set up upon a gentleman's house in Low Layton, as was said. In this Savoy were placed by William III. many families of poor French Protestants, and where they that had skill in trade and manufacture wrought to get something for their livelihood; however, they were opposed and complained of by many of the tradesmen of London as hindering and prejudicing them. Here also was, and is, a church for them. The late Bishop of London came hither himself sometimes, and passionately desired their good, and maintained many of their proselytes. The poor French here inhabiting with their families had many of them three shillings allowance weekly, and some four. To countenance them more, to this church came many of the said king's privy councillors, secretaries of state, and other great officers of the kingdom; and through them and their contributions, the church was chiefly able to subsist. They use the Liturgy of the Church of England turned into French, and their ministers are episcopally ordained."

Strype, writing in 1755, thus describes the then existing state of the Savoy:—

"This Savoy House is very great, and at this present a very ruinous building. In the midst of its buildings is a very spacious hall, the walls three feet broad at least, of stone without and brick and stone inward. The ceiling is very curiously built with wood, and having knobs in due places hanging down, and images of angels holding before their breasts coats of arms, but hardly discoverable; for one is a cross gules between four stars, or else mullets. It is covered with lead, but in divers places perished, where it lies open to the weather. This large hall is now divided into several large apartments. A cooper hath a part of it for the stowing of his hoops and for his work; other parts of it serve as two marshalseas for keeping prisoners—as deserters, men pressed for military service, Dutch recruits, &c. Towards the east end of this hall is a fair cupola with glass windows, but all broken, which makes it probable the hall was as long again, since cupolas are wont to be built about the middle of great halls.

"In the Savoy, of how ruinous soever is, are divers good houses. First, the king's printingpress, for proclamations, Acts of Parliament, gazettes, and such-like public papers; next, a prison; thirdly, a parish church and three or four other churches and places for religious assemblies, viz., for Dutch, for High Germans, and Lutherans, and lastly, for Protestant Dissenters and Quakers. Here are also harbours for many refugees and poor people."

The old hall, as stated above, had the usual louvre in the centre of the roof; this roof was of fine timber, with pendants supposed to have resembled those in Crosby Hall. Images of angels at the corbels bore on their breasts shields with coats of arms, as in the roof at Westminster Hall.

According to a map or ground-plan of the Savoy in 1736, the part between the present chapel and the river was a prison, between which and the Lutheran Church were "barracks" and some "gardens," since used as a Lutheran buryingground. Nearer still to the river, with which it was connected by a "water-gate," was the chapel of the German Calvinists, so that two different sets of doctrines were being taught by German preachers almost within earshot of each other. To the east stood the ancient hospital of St. John, then used as "barracks," divided from the Lutheran Church by some "officers' houses" and "the Friery." Between this and the Strand again were gardens, and two houses, the one occupied by "Nutt, the printer," and the other marked "Vaillant, bookseller, his warehouse."

Nearly where now are Wellington Street South and Lancaster Buildings, were a "French Church," a small close known as "Green Tree Court," and sundry dwellings, some of them marked as "Dutchy Houses."

Prints of the remains of the Savoy in 1793 and 1798 show a few of the walls of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist still standing. They were, apparently, of the Tudor, or latest Gothic style, as was also the "prison," which has a fine Perpendicular entrance, and oriel window above it. At the foot of the print is a statement to the effect that "this part of the Savoy is now occupied by the army as a place of confinement for their deserters and transports."

Henry VII. helped to rebuild the Savoy, as a hospital for a hundred distressed people. This building was in the form of a cross, and Pennant adds that its walls were entire down to his time (1806). The Records of the Duchy of Lancaster were formerly kept in a building close by, in Lancaster Place.

A considerable part of the old Savoy was standing at the beginning of the present century; but it was demolished to form the approach to Waterloo Bridge.

The present "Chapel of St. Mary in the Hospital, or of St. John the Baptist in the Savoy"—for it rejoices in the double name—is of early sixteenth century date. Its interior was burnt in 1860, but subsequently restored in the ancient style, at the cost of Her Majesty the Queen, under the superintendence of Mr. Sydney Smirke. It is small, but well-proportioned, consisting of a nave without aisles or chancel.

It has a rich reredos over the altar, which faces the north, having niches with domed canopies at either extremity. The window over the altar is of five lights, with vertical mullions of the Perpendicular or Tudor style. There are two sedilia, with a piscina between them and the east, or rather, north wall; the oak roof is coved at the sides, and divided with quatrefoil panels, showing the emblems of the Passion, the sacred monogram, the Lamb and Flag, the pelican in her piety, the types of St. John the Baptist, and sundry heraldic ornaments. It is richly painted throughout, and the prevailing colour is blue. Among the "memorial" windows that have been inserted is one to the Prince Consort, placed here by the Queen, in her capacity as Duchess of Lancaster and patroness of the living.

In the Savoy were buried many distinguished personages; among others, Gavin Douglas, the poet-Bishop of Dunkeld, son of Archibald "Bell the Cat," Earl of Angus. The reader of Scott's "Marmion" will remember how, at the wedding of De Wilton and Clare—
"A bishop at the altar stood—
A noble lord of Douglas blood;"
and he will be glad to learn that in the Savoy he "sleeps the sleep that knows not waking." Here, too, was buried, at his own request, Christopher Davenport, better known as Franciscus à Sanctâ Clarâ, who translated from the Portuguese the "Chronicles of the Franciscan Order," and who "reconciled Anne, Duchess of York, to the church which her husband had joined."

Among the persons who have either been buried or had monuments erected to them here are Mrs. Killigrew, the actress, daughter of Dr. Killigrew, one of the Masters of the Savoy; George, third Earl of Cumberland, of the old line of Clifford; Richard Lander, the African traveller; George Wither, the poet and satirist; and the Earl of Feversham, who commanded King James's troops at Sedgemoor. In the burial-ground attached to the church is the tomb of William Hilton, many years Keeper of the Royal Academy.

The precinct of the Savoy was made into a parish by Bishop Grindal, in the reign of Elizabeth, when the Protector Somerset demolished the old Church of St. Mary, to make room for his new palace, and it is probably the smallest parish in the metropolis or its suburbs west of Temple Bar.

A very distinguished man became the Master of the Savoy in the reign of James I. We refer to Antonio de Dominis, ex-Archbishop of Spalatro, who, adopting strong anti-papal tenets, came to England, where he published a learned treatise, "De Republicâ Ecclesiasticâ," and was ultimately made Dean of Windsor. He was a Master also of Natural Philosophy. He does not, however, lie buried here, as late in life he went to Rome, in order to make his peace with the Church which he had left.

Machyn, in his "Diary," records the burial, in 1554, of the Earl of Bedford, Lord Privy Seal, who died "at his house beside the Savoy," and was carried thence to his home at Chenies for interment. His funeral procession, as it started hence, must have been a splendid sight. He was carried with three crosses before him, and many clerks and priests in attendance, "till they came to the hill above St. James's, when some turned back. All were mounted on horseback. First, there rode one in black bearing a silver cross; then came priests in surplices; then came the standard; then the gentlemen and chief officers; then the heralds, with the helmet, mantle, and crest, the armour and insignia; then came the funeral car with painted banners; then the saddle-horse; then the mourners, chief of them Lord Russell's son; then the Lord Treasurer, the Master of the Horse, and various members of the nobility, all clad in black. Everywhere on the course of the procession the clergy came forth to meet it, and alms were distributed among the poor."

In speaking of the parish of St. Mary-in-theSavoy, the London Spy, published in 1725, says that it was the head-quarters of "the Worshipful Company of Upholders," meaning the undertakers; and the writer adds a graduated scale of fees paid by those black-coated and keen-eyed gentry to coachmen, footmen, and other persons in positions where news travels quickly, for ready information as to the deaths, actual or approaching, of titled and wealthy personages.

A number of dingy coal-wharves was all that, during the first half of the present century, and, indeed, until the formation of the Thames Embankment, stood by the river-side to mark the site of a palace which had been the residence of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and of the poet Chaucer. Some of the coal-sheds, indeed, stand there still; but between the Savoy and the Embankment now is a space laid out as a garden, where green shrubs and pleasant flowers delight the eye of the weary Londoner.