Southwark: St Saviour's Church

Old and New London: Volume 6. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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Edward Walford, 'Southwark: St Saviour's Church', in Old and New London: Volume 6, (London, 1878) pp. 16-29. British History Online [accessed 28 May 2024].

Edward Walford. "Southwark: St Saviour's Church", in Old and New London: Volume 6, (London, 1878) 16-29. British History Online, accessed May 28, 2024,

Walford, Edward. "Southwark: St Saviour's Church", Old and New London: Volume 6, (London, 1878). 16-29. British History Online. Web. 28 May 2024,

In this section



"How many an antique monument is found
Illegible, and faithless to its charge!
That deep insculp'd once held in measured phrase
The mighty deeds of those who sleep below:
Of hero, sage, or saint, whose pious hands
Those ponderous masses raised—forgotten now,
They and their monuments alike repose."

The Limits of Southwark as a Borough—The Liberty of the Clink—The Old High Street—The Clock-tower at London Bridge—The Borough Market—Old St. Saviour's Grammar School—The Patent of Foundation granted by Queen Elizabeth—St. Saviour's Church—The Legend of Old Audrey, the Ferryman—Probable Derivation of the Name of Overy, or Overie—Foundation of the Priory of St. Mary Overy—Burning of the Priory in 1212—Building of the Church of St. Mary Magdalen—Historical Events connected with the Church—Religious Ceremonies and Public Processions—Alterations and Restorations of St. Saviour's Church—The Lady Chapel used as a Bakehouse—Bishop Andrewes' Chapel—John Gower, John Fletcher, and other Noted Personages buried here—Hollar's Etchings—Montague Close.

Before proceeding with an examination of the various objects of antiquarian interest abounding in the locality, it may be as well to state that Southwark is a general name, sometimes taken and understood as including, and sometimes as excluding Rotherhithe, Bermondsey, and Lambeth. We shall use it, at present, in the latter sense.

Black's "Guide to London," published in 1863, divides the district south of the Thames into two principal portions:—"1. Southwark, known also as 'the Borough,' including Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, with a population of about 194,000. 2. Lambeth, with the adjacent but outlying districts of Kennington, Walworth, Newington, Wandsworth, and Camberwell, with a population of 386,000." Southwark is always called "the Borough" by Londoners; and very naturally so, for it has been a "borough" literally, having returned two members to Parliament since the twenty-third year of Edward I., and it was for several centuries the only "borough" adjacent to the "cities" of London and Westminster. Under the first Reform Bill (1832) its limits as a borough were extended by the addition of the parishes of Christ Church, Bermondsey, and Rotherhithe, and also of the "Liberty of the Clink."

The Liberty of the Clink, as we learn from the "Penny Cyclopædia" (1842), belongs to the Bishop of Winchester, whose palace, of which we shall presently speak, stood near the western end of St. Saviour's Church, and who appoints for it—or, at all events, till very lately appointed—a steward and a bailiff. This part of Southwark appears not to have been included in the grant to the City.

In the "New View of London" (1708) we read, "The Manor of Southwark, by some called the Clink Liberty, is, in extent, about a quarter of the parish of St. Saviour's. The civil government of it is under the Bishop of Winchester, who keeps court by his steward and bailiff, who hold pleas as at the Burrough (sic) for debt, damage, &c., for which manor there is a prison."

There is nothing romantic, to say the least, in the situation of Southwark. At the best it is a dead flat, unmixed by a single acre of rising ground. "What a contrast," exclaims Charles Mackay, in "The Thames and its Tributaries," "is there now, and always has been, in both the character and the appearance of the two sides of the river! The London side, high and well built, thickly studded with spires and public edifices, and resounding with all the noise of the operations of a various industry; the Southwark and Lambeth side, low and flat, and meanly built, with scarcely an edifice higher than a wool-shed or timber-yard, and a population with a squalid, dejected, and debauched look, offering a remarkable contrast to the cheerfulness and activity visible on the very faces of the Londoners. The situation of Southwark upon the low swamp is, no doubt, one cause of the unhealthy appearance of the dwellers on the south side of the Thames; but the dissolute and rakish appearance of the lower orders among them must be otherwise accounted for. From a very early age, if the truth must be told, Southwark and Lambeth, and especially the former, were the great sinks and receptacles of all the vice and immorality of London. Down to the year 1328 Southwark had been independent of the jurisdiction of London—a sort of neutral ground which the law could not reach—and, in consequence, the abode of thieves and abandoned characters of every kind. They used to sally forth in bands of a hundred or two hundred at a time to rob in the City; and the Lord Mayor and aldermen for the time being had not unfrequently to keep watch upon the bridge for nights together, at the head of a troop of armed men, to prevent their inroads. The thieves, however, on these occasions took to their boats at midnight, and rowing up the river landed at Westminster, where they drove all before them with as much valour and as great impunity as a border chieftain upon a foray into Cumberland. These things induced the magistrates of London to apply to Edward III. for a grant of Southwark. The request was complied with, and the vicious place was brought under the rule of the City. Driven, in some measure, from their nest, the thieves took refuge in Lambeth, and still set the authorities at defiance. From that day to this the two boroughs have had pretty much the same character, and have been known as the favourite resort of thieves and vagabonds of every description." It is to be hoped that in this description of the character of the "Londoners over the water," Dr. Mackay has written with a little of poetical licence, not to say exaggeration, as he certainly has over-stated the squalidity of their buildings. The huge palaces of commerce erected on either side of Southwark Street in 1875 give the most palpable contradiction to his statements, which perhaps were a little in excess of the truth in 1840, when he wrote.

Down to the time of the demolition of Old London Bridge, and the consequent formation of the present broad approach to the new bridge, Southwark retained much of its antique character. The old High Street, then rich with its pointed gables, and half-timbered over-hanging storeys, with florid plaster-work and diamond casements, such as characterised the street architecture of ancient London—is now quite altered in appearance. All the picturesque features here mentioned have long been swept away, and their place was for a time supplied by the unbroken parapets and the monotonous brick front of lines of shops; but even these in turn have in part been superseded by buildings altogether of another age and style; we refer to the Grecian and Italianised facade of the western side of the present High Street, immediately on our right as we leave the bridge.

"The street of Old Southwark," writes John Timbs, in his "Autobiography," "was in a line shelving down from the bridge, and crowded with traffic from morn till night. We remember, about 1809, watching from our nursery window the demolition of a long range of wood-and-plaster and gabled houses on the west side of High Street; and in 1830 were removed two houses of the time of Henry VII., with bay windows and picturesque plaster decorations, reported, though we know not with how much truth, to have been the abode of Queen Anne Boleyn."

Brayley, in his "History of Surrey," remarks: "The principal street [of Southwark] is the High a Street, forming a portion of the great road from London through Surrey, and running in a southwesterly direction from London Bridge to St. Margaret's Hill, and thence to St. George's Church. The part between the bridge and St. Margaret's Hill was formerly called Long Southwark, but is now called Wellington Street, from which the way is called High Street as far as St. George's Church."

Near the foot of the bridge, and at the point where the high level of the bridge begins to slope down to the original level of the ground, the road is crossed by the railway bridge over which are carried the lines connecting London Bridge station with the stations at Cannon Street and Charing Cross. Here, too, in the centre of the roadway, stood for some few years a clock-tower of Gothic design, surmounted by a spire, and originally intended, we believe, to have contained a statue of the Duke of Wellington. The tower itself was erected about the year 1854, but the statue was never placed in it; and having been found to be a continual block to the traffic over the bridge, the tower itself was in the end demolished.

At the time of the alterations made here, in consequence of the rebuilding of London Bridge, advantage was taken to carry out another improvement for the benefit of the locality, namely, the erection of a new market-place. Inconvenience having arisen from the situation of the old market, which used to be held in the High Street, between London Bridge and St. Margaret's Hill, two Acts of Parliament were obtained in the middle of the last century, in pursuance of which a market-house was erected on a piece of ground westward of the High Street, called Rochester Yard, from having been formerly the site of a mansion belonging to the see of Rochester, which was taken down in the year 1604, and the site of which is still marked by Rochester Street. The market-place now consists of a large open paved space on the south side of St. Saviour's churchyard; in one corner of it a neat granite drinking-fountain has been erected. Several buildings, of a light and airy character, to serve the purposes of the dealers and others in the market—which, by the way, is devoted to the sale of vegetables, &c.—occupy the south side of the open space; the principal feature in these buildings is the large central dome. A considerable addition of space was made to the market-place in 1839 by the demolition of the old St. Saviour's Grammar School, which had existed on that spot since the time of Queen Elizabeth. "The old school," as we learn from the Mirror, vol. xxxv. (1840), "was a handsome structure, with very spacious school-room, having the master's seat, with sounding-board over. The exterior was a brick fabric, consisting of three casement windows on each side of a large doorway, ascended by three semi-circular stone steps, with a handsome carved dome, representing two children supporting the Bible. The second storey had seven lofty case ment windows; the rooms panelled. The school was screened from the churchyard by an iron railing."


VIEWS OF ST. SAVIOUR'S CHURCH. 1. Interior of Chapel, East End of St. Saviour's. 2. Lady Chapel. 3. Part of Priory of St. Saviour's. 4. St. Saviour's Church. 5. Montague Close. 6. Chapel at End of St. Saviour's.

When Queen Elizabeth came to the throne, following the example of her brother, Edward VI., she considered the importance of diffusing knowledge among the people, to forward which she not only re-founded the grammar-school of Westminster, but encouraged her subjects to such like acts of benevolence.

The priory church of St. Mary Overy, Southwark, having been purchased by the inhabitants as a parish church, the desire of instilling useful knowledge among youth induced Thomas Cure, the queen's saddler, and several other benevolent persons, to found the grammar-school we are now describing for the instruction of thirty boys of the same parish; and for this purpose they obtained letters patent from Queen Elizabeth, in the fourth year of her reign. In these it is recited of the said grammar-school:—

"That Thomas Cure, William Browker, Christopher Campbell, and other discret and more sad inhabitants of St. Saviour's, had, at their own great costs and pains, devised, erected, and set up a grammar-school, wherein the children of the poor, as well as the rich inhabitants, were freely brought up; that they had applied for a charter to establish a succession; she therefore wills that it shall be one grammar-school for Education of the Children of the Parishioners and Inhabitants of St. Saviour, to be called 'A Free Grammar-school of the Parishioners of St. Saviour in Southwark,' to have one master and one under-master; six of the more discreet and sad inhabitants to be governors, by the name of 'Governors of the Possessions and Revenues and Goods of the Free Grammar-school of the Parishioners of the Parish of St. Saviour, Southwark, in the county of Surrey, incorporate and erected;' and they are thereby incorporated, to have perpetual succession, with power to purchase lands, &c., and that on death or other causes the remaining governors, and twelve others of the more discreet and godliest inhabitants, by the governors to be named, should elect a meet person or governor . . . having power, with advice of the Bishop of Winchester, or he being absent, with advice of any good or learned man, to appoint a schoolmaster and usher from time to time, &c., . . . . and also power to purchase lands not exceeding £40 a year.

"All that the parishioners obtained by this patent of Queen Elizabeth was to be made a corporate body with succession; the queen gave them nothing to endow their school. It seems to have been some time before they proceeded any farther, for the first patent of Elizabeth granted a lease of the rectory for sixty years, in order that a school should be erected; but by a subsequent patent it appears that it had not been built till after 1585.

"In 1676 the school was burnt in the great fire which then destroyed a large part of Southwark, but it was soon rebuilt."

The new building having become sadly dilapidated in 1830, the governors resolved on erecting a new school near St. Peter's Church, in Sumner Street, the ground being given for the purpose by Dr. Sumner, Bishop of Winchester and accordingly the ancient grammar-school was taken down. We shall have more to say about St. Saviour's Grammar School when we reach Sumner Street.

St. Saviour's Church—one of the finest parochial churches in the kingdom—in spite of the barbarous mutilation which it underwent when its nave was pulled down, is now almost the sole remaining object of "Old Southwark." In spite of the loss of its original nave, it is deservedly styled by Mr. A. Wood, in his "Ecclesiastical Antiquities of London," "the second church in the metropolis, and the first in the county of Surrey." It is one of the few parish churches in the kingdom possessing a "lady chapel" still perfect.

Before the Reformation it was styled the priory church of St. Mary Overy, and its early history is almost lost in the mists of ancient tradition. There is a curious legend connecting the building of the original London Bridge with the church of St. Mary Overy, but it has been much discredited. The story is related on the authority of Stow, who chronicled it as the report of the last prior, Bartholomew Linsted:—

"A ferry being kept in the place where now the bridge is builded, at length the ferryman and his wife deceasing, left the same ferry to their only daughter, a maiden named Mary, who, with the goods left her by her parents, as also with the profits of the said ferry, builded an house of Sisters on the place where now standeth the east part of St. Mary Overy's Church, above the quire, where she was buried, unto which house she gave the oversight and profits of the ferry. But afterwards the said house of Sisters being converted into a college of priests, the priests builded the bridge of timber, as all the other great bridges of this land were, and from time to time kept the same in good reparation; till at length, considering the great charges which were bestowed in the same, there was, by aid of the citizens and others, a bridge builded with stone."

The story of the miserly old ferryman, Audrey, Mary's father—how he counterfeited death in order that his household might forego a day's victuals, as he never supposed but that their sorrow would make them fast at least so long; and how strangely he was deceived—has already been told by us. (fn. 1) As the story, however—regardless of its improbability—is as closely connected with this venerable fabric as it is with London Bridge itself, we may be pardoned for recapitulating some of the main incidents of the tradition. No sooner had the old man—so runs the story—been decently laid out, than those about him fell to feasting and making merry, rejoicing at the death of the old sinner, who, stretched in apparent death, bore their rioting for a short time, but at length sprang from his bed, and, seizing the first weapon at hand, attacked his apprentice. The encounter was fatal to him; and his daughter, the gentle, fair-haired Mary, the heiress of his wealth, devoted it to the establishment of a House of Sisters as above mentioned. The house bore her name of Mary Audrey, with the saintly prefix; but in the lapse of time, Audrey became corrupted into "Overie." Some old writers, however, suggest that the religious house was originally founded in honour of the popular Saxon saint Audrey, or Etheldreda, of Ely. But a more pro bable derivation of the name than either of the foregoing is from "over the rie," that is "over the water." Even in these days Londoners north of the Thames invariably designate the whole of the southern suburbs as "over the water;" and the phrase may perhaps be as old as the time of the building of St. Mary's "over the rie."

Long after the good Mary Audrey (or Overie) died—if, indeed, she ever lived—a noble lady named Swithen changed the House of Sisters into a college for priests; and in 1106 two Norman knights, William Pont de l'Arche and William Dauncey, re-founded it as a house for canons of the Augustine order. Giffard, then Bishop of Winchester, built the conventual church and the palace in Winchester Yard close by. It was in this priory that the fire broke out in 1212, when the greater part of Southwark was destroyed, and another fire breaking out simultaneously at the northern end of London Bridge an immense crowd was enclosed between the two fires, and 3,000 persons were burned or drowned. The canons thus burnt out established a temporary place of worship on the opposite side of the main road, which they dedicated to St. Thomas, and occupied for about three years until their own church was repaired.

The church was then dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen. In 1273, Walter, Archbishop of York, granted an indulgence of thirty days to all who should contribute to the rebuilding of the sacred edifice, and towards the end of the following century the church was entirely rebuilt. Gower, the poet, it is stated, contributed a considerable portion of the funds.

In 1404 Cardinal Beaufort was consecrated to the see of Winchester, and two years later was celebrated in this church the marriage of Edmund Holland, Earl of Kent, with Lucia, eldest daughter of Barnaby, Lord of Milan. Henry IV. himself gave away the bride "at the church door," and afterwards conducted her to the marriage banquet at Winchester Palace. It was in this church, too, a few years subsequently (1424), that James I. of Scotland wedded the daughter of the Earl of Somerset, and niece of the great Cardinal, the golden-haired beauty, Jane Beaufort, of whom, during his imprisonment at Windsor, the royal poet had become enamoured, doubting, when he first saw her from his window, whether she was
"A worldly creature,
Or heavenly thing in likeness of nature."
At all events, the king describes her in his verses as
"The fairest and the freshest yonge flower
That ever I saw, methought, before that hour."
The marriage feast on this occasion, too, was kept in the great hall of Winchester Palace, and in a style befitting the munificence of the cardinal. The marriage, as we are told, was a happy one, and the bards of Scotland vied with each other in singing the praises of the queen, and in extolling her beauty and her conjugal affection. In 1437 James was murdered by his subjects, his brave queen being twice wounded in endeavouring to save his life.

At the dissolution of religious houses, in 1539, the priory of black canons—for such was that of St. Mary Overy's—of course shared the general fate of monastic establishments; but the last prior, Bartholomew Linsted, had the good fortune of obtaining from Henry VIII. a yearly pension of £100. The inhabitants of the parishes of St. Mary Magdalen and St. Margaret-at-Hill—which latter church stood on the west side of the High Street, on the spot till recently occupied by the Town Hall—purchased, with the assistance of Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, the stately church of St. Mary. The priory church was also at the same time purchased from the king, and the two parishes were united under the title of St. Saviour's, the priory church having been recognised by the name of St. Saviour's for nearly thirty years before. At the same time the churchwardens and vestry were constituted a "corporation sole." Six years before that period a dole had been given at the door of the church, and so great was the crowd and pressure on that occasion that several persons were killed. In pre-Reformation times this church was the scene of many religious ceremonies and public processions. One of these, conducted with great pomp and ceremony, is described by Fosbroke in his economy of monastic life, as follows:—
"Then two and two they march'd, and loud bells toll'd:
One from a sprinkle holy water flung;
This bore the relics from a chest of gold,
On arm of that the swinging censor hung;
Another loud a tinkling hand-bell rung.
Four fathers went that singing monk behind,
Who suited Psalms of Holy David sung;
Then o'er the cross a stalking sire inclined,
And banners of the church went waving in the wind."

Various alterations and restorations have at different times been made in the fabric of the church. The Lady Chapel, at the eastern end, is a relic of the older edifice. The tower of the church was repaired in 1689; and in 1822 a complete restoration of the fine Gothic edifice was commenced. The brick casings with which generations of Goths had hidden the beautiful architecture were removed; groined roof and transepts were restored, and a circular window of rare beauty added. But even in this great work the taste of the age, as represented by the vestry and churchwardens, interfered; the noble vista of the longdrawn aisle was broken, and a new and sorry modern nave constructed in its place.

The edifice is very spacious, and is built on the plan of a cathedral. In its style of architecture, excepting its tower, it somewhat resembles Salisbury Cathedral. It comprises a nave and aisles, transepts, a choir with its aisles, and at the eastern end, as above stated, the chapel of the Blessed Virgin, or, as it is more commonly called, the Lady Chapel. Contiguous, but extending farther eastward, was added a small chapel, which in time came to be called the Bishop's Chapel, from the tomb of Bishop Andrewes having been placed in its centre. This latter chapel was entered from the Lady Chapel under a large pointed arch. The chapel itself was rather over thirty feet in length, and had a stone seat on each side, and at the east end. However, as it was thought to injure the effect of the eastern elevation of the church, as seen from the new bridge road, it was taken down in the year 1830. A view of the Bishop's Chapel, from the last sketch that was taken of it, is given in Taylor's "Annals of St. Mary Overy."

At the intersection of the nave, transepts, and choir, rises a noble tower, 35 feet square and 150 feet in height, resting on four massive pillars adorned with clustered columns. The sharppointed arches are very lofty. The interior of the tower is in four storeys, in the uppermost of which is a fine peal of twelve bells. Externally, the tower, which is not older than the sixteenth century, somewhat resembles that of St. Sepulchre's Church, close by Newgate. It is divided into two parts, with handsome pointed windows, in two storeys, on each front; it has tall pinnacles at each corner, and the battlements are of flint, in squares or chequer work.

This tower has been in great jeopardy on more than one occasion, once through the vibration caused by the ringing of the bells, when damage was done to the extent of several thousand pounds; and more recently, when the south-eastern pinnacle was struck down by lightning, and fell upon the roof of the south transept, doing considerable damage.

We are told that, during and after the progress of the Great Fire of London, Hollar busied himself from his old and favourite point of view, the summit of this tower, in delineating the appearance of the city as it lay in ruins, which is so well known to us by the help of the engraver's art.

The western front of the church, as well as its southern side, has been restored with rubble-stone within the last half century in a style that reflects but little credit on the architect. In each corner rises a slight octagonal tower. In the buttresses, on each side of the large window, flintwork is ornamentally inserted. Over the door, which is in three compartments, in pointed arches, is a plain sunken entablature, occupying the space formerly devoted to a range of small pillars, forming niches, the centre having a bracket, on which is supposed to have stood the figure of the Virgin. From the repairs and alterations that have from time to time taken place in the fabric, the beauty of the interior, especially in the nave, has been much impaired. But it is still a noble structure; indeed, it has been proposed to restore the nave and make the church into a cathedral, as a memorial to the late Bishop Wilberforce.

The nave, as it at present exists, is awkwardly reached from the transept by a flight of several steps, a huge screen blocking up the view from east to west. The roof of the nave originally was supported by twenty-six columns, thirteen on each side, of which the four nearest the western end were of the massy round Norman character. The other columns were octangular, with small clustercolumns added at the four cardinal points. Corresponding with these columns are semi-columns in the walls, from which spring the arches of the aisles. There is a gallery in the window storey of the nave, which was formerly continued over the arches of the transept and choir. The altar-piece, or screen, at the east end of the nave forms a complete separation between this part of the structure and the choir. In fact, the transepts and chancel, under the existing arrangements, are utterly useless.

From the great supporting columns of the tower to the altar-screen at the east end of the choir run five lofty pointed arches, enriched with mouldings, and the groined roof, of stone, is exceedingly fine. The screen dividing the choir from the Lady Chapel is rich in its carving and decoration. On the east side of the south transept formerly stood the chapel of St. Mary Magdalen, founded and built by Peter de Rupibus, Bishop of Winchester. This chapel was thus described by Mr. Nightingale in 1818:—"The chapel itself is a very plain erection. It is entered on the south, through a large pair of folding doors leading down a small flight of steps. The ceiling has nothing peculiar in its character; nor are the four pillars supporting the roof, and the unequal arches leading into the south aisle, in the least calculated to convey any idea of grandeur or feeling of veneration. These arches have been cut through in a very clumsy manner, so that scarcely any vestige of the ancient church of St. Mary Magdalen now remains. A small doorway and windows, however, are still visible at the east end of this chapel; the west end formerly opened into the south transept; but that also is now walled up, except a part, which leads to the gallery there. There are in different parts niches which once held the holy water, by which the pious devotees of former ages sprinkled their foreheads on their entrance before the altar. I am not aware that any other remains of the old church are now visible in this chapel. Passing through the eastern end of the south aisle, a pair of gates leads into the Virgin Mary's Chapel." A correspondent of the Mirror, writing in 1832, says that it was this chapel, and not the Lady Chapel as had been previously stated, that contained the gravestone of one Bishop Wickham, who, however, was not the famous builder of Windsor Castle in the time of Edward III., but who died in 1595, the same year in which he was translated from the see of Lincoln to that of Winchester. "His gravestone," he adds, "now lying exposed in the churchyard, marks the south-east corner of the site of the aforesaid Magdalen Chapel." This chapel was pulled down in 1822. Amongst the alterations and additions consequent on its removal are the present windows and doorway of the transept. The angle formed by the north transept and the choir was formerly the Chapel of St. John, now appropriated as the vestry. Beyond the choir-screen, as already mentioned, is the Lady Chapel, which was restored by Mr. Gwilt in 1832; its four gables and groined roof are very fine. In Queen Mary's time it was used as a consistorial court by Bishop Gardiner, and here Bishop Hooper and John Rogers were tried as heretics, and condemned to the stake.

After the parish had obtained the grant of the church, the Lady Chapel was let to one Wyat, a baker, who converted it into a bakehouse. He stopped up the two doors which communicated with the aisles of the church, and the two which opened into the chancel, and which, though visible, long remained masoned up. In 1607 Mr. Henry Wilson, tenant of the Chapel of the Holy Virgin, found himself inconvenienced by a tomb "of a certain cade," and applied to the vestry for its removal, which, as recorded in the parish books, was very "friendly" consented to, "making the place up again in any reasonable sort."

The following curious particulars of the Lady Chapel appear in Strype's edition of Stow's Survey:—"It is now called the New Chapel; and indeed, though very old, it now may be called a new one; because newly redeemed from such use and employment as, in respect of that it was built to (divine and religious duties), may very well be branded with the style of wretched, base, and unworthy. For that which, before this abuse, was, and is now, a fair and beautiful chapel, was, by those that were then the corporation, &c., leased and let out, and this house of God made a bakehouse.

"Two very fair doors, that from the two sideaisles of the chancel of the church, and two, that through the head of the chancel went into it, were lathed, daubed, and dammed up: the fair pillars were ordinary posts, against which they piled billets and bavins. In this place they had their ovens; in that, a bolting-place; in that, their kneading-trough; in another, I have heard, a hog's trough. For the words that were given me were these:—'This place have I known a hog-sty; in another, a store-house, to store up their hoarded-meal; and, in all of it, something of this sordid kind and condition.'"

The writer then goes on to mention the four persons, all bakers, to whom in succession it was let by the corporation; and adds, that one part was turned into a starch-house.

In this state it continued till the year 1624, when the vestry restored it to its original condition, at an expense of two hundred pounds. In the course of two centuries it again became ruinous; and in 1832 a public subscription was commenced, and the beautiful chapel was thoroughly restored. The roof is divided into nine groined arches, supported by six octangular pillars in two rows, having small circular columns at the four points. In the east end, on the north side, are three lancet-shaped windows, forming one great window, divided by slender pillars, and having mouldings with zigzag ornaments. At the north-east corner of the chapel, a portion had been divided off from the rest by a wooden enclosure, in which were a table, desk, and elevated seat. This part was the Bishop's court; but it was usual to give this name to the whole chapel, in which the Bishop of Winchester, even almost down to the time of the above-mentioned restoration, held his court, and in which were also held the visitations of the deanery of Southwark.

At the east end of the Lady Chapel, as stated above, was Bishop Andrewes' Chapel, which was ascended by two steps, and was so called from the tomb of Dr. Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester, standing in the centre of it. The Bishop's Chapel having been wholly taken down, this fine monument has been removed into the Lady Chapel. The Bishop is represented the size of life, in a recumbent posture, and dressed in his robes, as prelate of the Order of the Garter. Originally this tomb had a handsome canopy, supported by four black marble pillars; but the roof of the Bishop's Chapel falling in, and the chapel itself being much defaced by fire, in 1676, the canopy was broken, and not repaired. In taking down the monument, at the time of the demolition of the Bishop's Chapel, a heavy leaden coffin, containing the remains of the deceased prelate, and marked with his initials "L. A.," was found built up within the tomb; and on the reerection of the monument against the west wall of the Lady Chapel, the coffin was carefully replaced in its original cell.


Dr. Andrewes, a prelate distinguished by his learning and piety, was one of the translators of the Bible. He was born in London in 1555, and received the rudiments of his education first at the free school of the Coopers' Company, in Ratcliff Highway, and afterwards at the Merchant Taylors' School. He afterwards graduated at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He soon became widely known for his great learning; and, in due course, found a patron in the Earl of Huntingdon, whose chaplain he became. After holding for a short time a living in an obscure village in Hampshire, he was appointed Vicar of St. Giles's, Cripplegate, and in a short time after, prebendary and residentiary of St. Paul's, and also prebendary of the collegiate church of Southwell. In these several capacities he distinguished himself as a diligent and excellent preacher, and he read divinity lectures three days in the week at St. Paul's during term time. Upon the death of Dr. Fulke, he was chosen master of Pembroke Hall, to which college he afterwards became a considerable benefactor. He was next appointed one of the chaplains in ordinary to Queen Elizabeth, who took great delight in his preaching, and promoted him to the deanery of Westminster, in 1601. He refused a bishopric in this reign, because he would not submit to the spoliation of the ecclesiastical revenues. In the next, however, he had no cause for such scruple, and having published a work in defence of King James's book on the "Rights of Sovereigns," against Cardinal Bellarmine, he was advanced to the bishopric of Chichester, and at the same time appointed lord-almoner. He was translated to the see of Ely in 1609; and in the same year he was sworn of the king's privy council in England, as he was afterwards of Scotland, upon attending his majesty to that kingdom.


When he had sat nine years in the see of Ely, he was translated to that of Winchester, and also appointed dean of the royal chapel; and to his honour it is recorded of him, that these preferments were conferred upon him without any court interest, or solicitations on the part of himself or his friends: it is likewise observed, that though he was a privy councillor in the reigns of James I. and Charles I., he interfered very little in temporal concerns; but in all affairs relative to the Church, and the duties of his office, he was remarkably diligent and active. After a long life of honour and tranquillity, in which he enjoyed the esteem of three successive sovereigns, the friendship of all men of letters, his contemporaries, and the veneration of all who knew him, Bishop Andrewes died at Winchester House, in Southwark, in September, 1626, at the age of seventy-one.

One of the most ancient memorials preserved in the church is the oaken cross-legged effigy of one of the Norman knights who founded the priory; it is in a low recess in the north wall of the choir. But better known is the monument on the east side of the south transept, to John Gower, the poet, and his wife. "This tomb," says Cunningham, "was originally erected on the north side of the church, where Gower founded a chantry. It was removed to its present site, and repaired and coloured, in 1832, at the expense of the Duke of Sutherland, whose family claimed relationship or descent from the poet Gower. But, according to the Athenæum (No. 1,537, p. 68), Sir H. Nicolas and Dr. Pauli have shown that the family of the Duke of Sutherland and Lord Ellesmere must relinquish all pretension to being related to, or even descended from, John Gower. They have hitherto depended solely upon the possession of the MS. of the 'Confessio Amantis,' which was supposed to have been presented to an ancestor by the poet; but it turns out, on the authority of Sir Charles Young, that it was the very copy of the work which the author laid at the feet of King Henry IV. while he was yet Harry of Hereford, Lancaster, and Derby!"


Gower, as we have stated above, contributed largely towards the rebuilding of the church at the close of the fourteenth century. He was certainly a rich man for a poet, and he gave, doubtless, large sums during the progress of the work; but it is absurd to suppose, as some have imagined, that the sacred edifice was wholly built by his money. Lest any such foolish idea should be entertained, Dr. Mackay, in his "Thames and its Tributaries," places on record the following witty epigram:—
"This church was rebuilt by John Gower, the rhymer,
Who in Richard's gay court was a fortunate climber;
Should any one start, 'tis but right he should know it,
Our wight was a lawyer as well as a poet."

The fact is that Gower was a "fortunate climber," not only in the court of Richard, but in that of the Lancastrian king who succeeded him. Like many other poets, he "worshipped the rising sun," and his reward was that, to use his own words, "the king laid a charge upon him," namely, to write a poem. It is commonly supposed that he was poet laureate to both of the above-mentioned kings; but if this was the case, the post was its own reward—at all events, no salary is known to have been attached to it.

Gower is, perhaps, the earliest poet who has sung the praises of the Thames by name. He relates in one of his quaint poems how that being on the river in his boat, he met the royal barge containing King Henry IV.:—
"As I came nighe,
Out of my bote, when he me syghe (saw),
He bade me come into his barge,
And when I was with him at large,
Amongst other thynges said,
He had a charge upon me laid."

The Chapel of St. John, in the north transept of this church, having been burnt and nearly destroyed in the thirteenth century, was sumptuously rebuilt by Gower almost at his sole cost; he founded also a chantry there, endowing it with money for a mass to be said daily for the repose of his soul, and an "obit" to be performed on the morrow after the feast of St. Gregory. In this chapel, we are quaintly told, "he prepared for his bones a resting, and there, somewhat after the old fashion, he lieth right sumptuously buried, with a garland on his head, in token that he in his life-daies flourished freshly in literature and science." The stone effigy on his tomb represented the poet with long auburn hair reaching down to his shoulders and curling up gracefully, a small curled beard, and on his head a chaplet of red roses (Leland says that there was a "wreath of joy" interspersed with the roses); the robe was of green damask reaching down to the feet; a collar of SS. in gold worn round the neck, and under his head effigies of the three chief books which he had compiled, viz., the "Speculum Meditantis," the "Vox Clamantis," and the "Confessio Amantis." On the wall hard by were painted effigies of three virtues—Charity, Mercy, and Pity—with crowns on their heads, and each bearing her own device in her hand. That of Charity ran thus:—
"En toy qui es fils de Dieu le Pere,
Sauve soit qui gist soubs cest piere."
That of Mercy thus:—
"O bone Jesu, fais la mercie
A l'ame dont le corps gist icy."
Whilst that of Pity ran as follows:—
"Par ta Pitie, Jesu, regarde
Et met cest aime en sauve garde."

Not far off was also a tablet with this inscription:—"Whoso prayeth for the soul of John Gower, as oft as he does it, shall have M.D. days of pardon." Gower's wife, we may add, was buried near him.

We know little enough of Gower—the "moral Gower," as Chaucer calls him—except that he came of a knightly family connected with Yorkshire, and that he owned property not far from London, to the south of the Thames, and probably in Kent. Though no lover of abuses, he was a firm and zealous supporter of the ancient Church, and opposed to the fanaticism of those sectaries who from time to time endeavoured to uphold the standard of reform in matters of faith. Henry IV., before he came to the throne, conferred on him the Lancastrian badge of the Silver Swan.

"Of the rest of his life," writes Dr. R. Pauli, in his "Pictures of Old England," "we know, in truth, very little. It was not till his old age, when his hair was grey, that, wearying of his solitary state, he took a wife in the person of one Agnes Groundolf, to whom he was married on the 25th of January, 1397. His very comprehensive will does not mention any children, but it makes ample provision for the faithful companion and nurse of his latter years. After prolonged debility and sickness, he lost his eye-sight in the year 1401, and was then compelled to lay aside his pen for ever. He died in the autumn of 1408, when upwards of eighty years of age. He lies buried in St. Saviour's Church, near the southern side of London Bridge; and we find from his last will that he had been connected in several ways with London, through his estates, which were all in the neighbourhood of the City. St. John's Chapel, in the church already refered to, still contains the monument which he had himself designed, and which, notwithstanding the many subsequent renovations which it has undergone, is tolerably well preserved. He lies clothed in the long closelybuttoned habit of his day, with his order on his breast, and his coat of arms by his side; but whether the face, with its long locks, and the wreath around the head, is intended as a portrait, it is difficult to say. Greater significance attaches . . . to the three volumes on which his head is resting, and which may be said to symbolise his life—the 'Speculum Meditantis,' the 'Vox Clamantis,' and 'Confessio Amantis.'"

Gower's works maintained their popularity long beyond the age in which his lot was cast, as may be gathered from the fact that his was the mine from which Shakespeare drew the materials for his Pericles, Prince of Tyre. In 1402, when blind and full of years, he followed his old friend Chaucer to the tomb. Prosaic and unpoetical as is now the aspect of Southwark, there is no spot in this great metropolis more worthy of being called the Poet's Corner. Chaucer, as we shall presently see, has conferred upon the Tabard Inn a literary immortality. Shakespeare himself dwelt for many years in a narrow street close by the church of St. Mary Overy; there he wrote many of his great dramas, while the neighbouring Bankside witnessed their performance. Edmund Shakespeare was, as the register-book of the parish tells us, a "player," no doubt through the connection of his brother with the Globe Theatre hard by. He was the immortal poet's youngest brother. The register at Stratford-on-Avon tells us that he was baptised there on the 3rd of May, 1580; that of St. Saviour's records the fact that he was buried here on the last day of the year 1607. So probably William Shakespeare stood by his grave. Such is the brief summary of all that is known to history of Edmund Shakespeare; "and," as Mr. Dyce remarks, "since his connection with the stage is ascertained from no other source, he probably was not distinguished in his profession."

Fletcher, the friend and fellow play-writer with Shakespeare, died of the plague of London, in August, 1625, at the age of forty-six, and was buried in this church. He had survived his friend and literary partner, Beaumont—with whom he lived at Bankside—just nine years. John Fletcher was a son of the Rev. Dr. Richard Fletcher, who was successively Bishop of Bristol, of Worcester, and of London, under Queen Bess. The names of Beaumont and Fletcher appear as jointly responsible for upwards of fifty dramas, but there are reasons for thinking that Fletcher had not much to do with more than half that number. The circumstances of his death are thus described by Sir John Aubrey:—"In the great plague of 1625, a knight of Norfolk or Suffolk invited him into the country. He stayed in London but to make himself a suit of clothes, and when it was making, fell sick and died. This I heard from the tailor, who is now a very old man, and clerk of St. Marie Overie."

"From the proximity of this church to the Globe Theatre and others on Bankside," writes Dr. Mackay, in his "Thames and its Tributaries," "many of the players of Shakespeare's time who resided in the neighbouring alleys found a final resting-place here when their career was over. Among others, unhappily, Philip Massinger, steeped in poverty to the very lips, died in some hovel adjacent, and was buried like a pauper at the expense of the parish." Born at Salisbury, in the year 1584, and having been educated at Alban Hall, Oxford, Philip Massinger, the playwright and poet, and the friend and immediate successor of Shakespeare, came to London to seek his bread by his pen, which furnished nearly forty plays for the stage. But in spite of their great celebrity at the time when they were written and performed, few of them are known to the present race of playgoers. A New Way to Pay Old Debtsis occasionally performed; and the Fatal Dowryand Riches (altered from The City Madam) have been found amongst modern revivals. Massinger's last days were probably spent in Southwark, though accounts differ as to the latter portion of his career. He died in 1639, for the register in that year records, "buried, Philip Massinger, a stranger"—that is, a non-parishioner. It is probable, therefore, that he wished in death to be joined with some of those who had been his fellow-craftsmen. His grave is unmarked by any stone or other memorial.

Among the remaining monuments in St. Saviour's Church is one bearing the following epitaph on a member of the Grocers' Company:—
"Garrett some call him, but that was too high;
His name is Garrard who now here doth lie.
Weep not for him, for he is gone before
To heaven, where there are grocers many more."

Another epitaph to a girl ten years of age contains this quaint thought, borrowed from an earthly court:—
"Such grace the King of kings bestowed upon her
That now she lives with Him a maid of honour."

Near the tomb of the poet Gower is another which exhibits a diminutive effigy of a man, an emaciated figure, in a winding-sheet, lying on a marble sarcophagus. At the back is a black tablet with the following inscription in letters of gold:—

"Here vnder lyeth the body of William Emerson, who lived and died an honest man. He departed ovt of this life the 27th of June, 1575, in the year of his age 92. Vt SVM SIC ERIS."

A curious effigy is that lying on the floor, on the east side of the north transept, which has been supposed by some persons to be that of the old "ferryman" above spoken of. Grose has inserted a representation of this figure in his "Antiquities of England and Wales," observing that it is a skeleton-like figure, of which the usual story is told that the person thereby represented attempted to fast for forty days in imitation of Christ, but died in the attempt, having first reduced himself to that appearance. There is also an engraving of this effigy in J. T. Smith's "Antiquities of London and its Environs," 1791, 4to. Be this figure, however, who or what it may, at all events its monument has long survived him; whether he carried passengers over the river Thames, or was occupied in teaching others how to cross that last fatal river which, as John Bunyan so quaintly says, "hath no bridge," can matter but little to us now.

St. Saviour's parish church differs in point of clerical administration from almost every other church in the kingdom, for it has neither rector nor vicar, nor what is popularly called a "curate," but under a peculiar grant the tithes are secured to the churchwardens for the maintenance of two chaplains or preachers at their pleasure. These chaplains are neither presented nor inducted like the incumbents of parishes in general. In fact, the parishioners elect their own preachers, like Congregationalist bodies.

There is an interesting view of St. Mary Overy's Church among the etchings of Hollar; it was worked at Antwerp in 1647. The view is taken from the north, and shows a porch leading into the north aisle of the chancel; there is also an ugly side aisle of Jacobean architecture running on the north side parallel to the nave. Another etching by the same artist, of which we give a copy on page 30, taken from the other side of the church, shows a glimpse of St. Paul's and the City across the river. Hollar's studies of buildings, his little landscape and water-side etchings, are always charming. He is an excellent delineator of architecture, his drawing and perspective being admirably executed. He can render landscape also with great subtilty, giving, for instance, in a small sketch of a few inches square the knolls and hollows of a piece of hilly river-bank with marvellous truth and naturalness. Some one has written of Hollar that, "whether dealing with brick and stone, or fields and streams, he is always dexterous and exact; and if we were asked to name the principal characteristic of his work, we should say it was a perfectly simple and earnest striving after truth. To some modern etchers, who have all sorts of marvellous methods of their own, who cover the paper with an incomprehensible chancemedley of black lines and call it 'green moonlight sleeping on a bank,' or something of the sort, Hollar's art may appear but homely, for it is only the art of transferring what was before him to paper, so that others may see it as he saw it."

The antiquarian author of "Chronicles of London Bridge" tells us that in his day, when the churchwardens and vestrymen of St. Mary Overy's met for convivial purposes, one of their earliest toasts was that of their church's patron saint, under the irreverent name of "Old Moll." It is to be hoped that such gross irreverence is now at an end.

St. Saviour's and its neighbourhood have, however, much historic interest on quite another score; for adjoining the northern side of St. Saviour's Church, and on the site of the Cloisters, Sir Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague, built after the Dissolution a handsome mansion, which gave name to the still existing Montague Close. In the memorable year 1605, Lord Monteagle was residing there when he received the anonymous letter advising him "as you tender your life, to devise you some excuse to shift off your attendance at this Parliament, for God and man have concurred to punish the wickedness of this time." The suspicions excited by this mysterious warning led to the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot. Monteagle was rewarded by a grant of £200 per annum in land and a pension of £500 in hard cash; and in remembrance of the great event, persons then and afterwards residing in Montague Close were exempted from actions for debt or trespass. The place became, in fact, a sort of minor sanctuary, the privileges of which grew ultimately to be such a public nuisance that they were suppressed by the strong arm of the law.


  • 1. See Vol. II., p. 9.