The St. John and Tillard estate: The proposed new church of 1711

Pages 93-95

Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1957.

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Proposed New Church, 1711

On 26 October 1711 the minister and churchwardens of St. Botolph Bishopsgate submitted a representation to the Commissioners for Building Fifty New Churches, in which they asked for the extra-parochial district of Norton Folgate ’containeing about One Hundred Familys’ to be united to their parish, together with the Old Artillery Ground, and for a new church to be erected within the parish. They suggested two sites, both on the west side of Bishopsgate Street. (fn. 215) The Commissioners decided on 31 October that a church should be erected within the bounds of the parish and of ’Norton falgate, the old Artillery ground and St. Mary le Spittle’. William Dickinson, a colleague of Nicholas Hawksmoor as one of the Commissioners' surveyors, was required to make a survey. (fn. 216)

On 6 November the inhabitants of the ’extraparochial precincts’ of Norton Folgate and ’St. Mary le Spittle’ and the Old Artillery Ground submitted their own representation, asking to be constituted a separate parish. The precincts were said to contain together nearly five hundred dwelling-houses ’which for the most part are Good and New houses’. The precinct of ’St. Mary le Spittle’ contained a ’Great Quantity of Vacant Ground’ belonging to Jeremy Sambrook, the mortgagee, and William St. John, the heir of the third Earl of Bolingbroke, within which was a ’very commodious and cheap place’ which could be obtained in fee simple. It was claimed that the inhabitants could raise a salary of £100 per annum for the minister by a 6d. rate, ’without burdening the poor’. The ability to support a minister was likely to be increased by the improvement of the rest of the vacant ground by building. (fn. 217)

On the same day Dickinson delivered a report on his survey of the two liberties of Norton Folgate and the Old Artillery Ground, and on 20 November laid before a committee of the Commissioners a plan of ground within Norton Folgate ’for the scite of one of the churches etc. to be erected within the Hamblet of Spittlefields’. (fn. 218) If this was not an error by Dickinson it was evidently intended at this time to join the liberties to Spitalfields rather than to St. Botolph Bishopsgate, although the papers relating to the project appear to have continued to be kept with those relating to the latter parish.

On 11 December the committee decided that ’the Scite proposed by Mr. Dickinson in Spittle Square, near the Ld Bullinbrooks house’ was suitable for a church, churchyard and minister's house. At the same time the site subsequently used for Christ Church was approved for one of the Spitalfields churches and a site near Hanbury Street approved ’for the other new church’. Thus Thus the union of the liberties with Spitalfields, if contemplated, had been abandoned. (fn. 219)

On 18 December a proposal for the sale to the Commissioners of the land and houses of the late Earl which had been ’reported proper for the Scite of a Church, Churchyard and Minister's House’ was received on behalf of the Earl's executor and mortgagee. £2,117 15s. was asked for the site, or £1,603 15s. part of it. (fn. 220)

It is not certain which of the surviving plans at Lambeth Palace Library and the Guildhall Library are Dickinson's plan of November: most of the plans appear to bear his handwriting. But, despite the description of the site as being in Spital Square, it is probably one of the plans showing a church site on the south side of Folgate (then White Lion) Street, about 100 feet east of Norton Folgate High Street, opposite the present south end of Blossom Street, with an entrance also from Spital Square. The church plan delineated has a rectangular body, some 80 feet long and 53 feet wide, divided by two colonnades into a nave and aisles of seven bays. A square tower, enclosing a circular vestibule, projects centrally from the west end, and an almost square chancel forms a similar east projection. Another plan shows the same building sited with its tower fronting on to Norton Folgate High Street. The only plans showing a site actually in the present area of Spital Square locate it on ground probably not part of the St. John estate in 1711: they may be connected with a project of the inhabitants in March 1711/12.

A projected roadway is shown running some 400 feet north along the line of Blossom Street to a burial-ground of one acre and seventeen poles approximately where Commercial Street now crosses the railway line approaching Liverpool Street Station, and described in 1717 as garden ground in the occupation of Mrs. Pelter.

In March 1711/12 the inhabitants of the Liberty of Norton Folgate obtained a legal opinion on the possibility of acquiring for the site of the church the ground previously occupied by the Candle House which had ’been downe for severall years past, and the ground whereon it stood lain entirely wast and useless’. Adjoining was other waste ground of the Earl of Bolingbroke. The inhabitants had ’agreed for the said earl's wast ground’ and wished to treat with the feoffees of the Candle House ground. (fn. 221) In 1719 the Candle House was probably acquired by Isaac Tillard (see page 47). If it did not form part of the St. John-Tillard estate before 1719 this site can hardly have been that on the south side of Fol gate Street and was probably near the north side of the eastern arm of Spital Square, for which site undated plans of a church exist. These were for an asymmetrical building with a rectangular nave having on its south side a west tower and vestibule, and an aisle of four bays. At the east and projects a shallow chancel, and a vestry entered from the aisle. One of these plans also shows, in dotted outline, a plan for a church on Folgate Street with a rectangular body, an east projection, and at the west end a vestry and a north-west tower.

The price asked in December 1711 for the late Earl's land was probably too high as the com mittee asked the Commissioners' secretary to look for another site. (fn. 220)

In August 1712 William Dickinson was re quired to make another survey of the late Earl's ground and in the same month the late Earl's mortgagee promised to give an answer regarding price. (fn. 222) In November two members of the Commission, Mr. Wren, Sir Christopher's son, and Mr. Manlove, were asked to view a site pro posed by the mortgagee, Mr. Sambrook, with Dickinson in attendance. (fn. 223) They reported in the same month on this site and another proposed by the Goldsmith's Company west of Bishopsgate Street, which was rejected as difficult of access. Mr. Sambrook's site was a half-acre in Folgate Street with a twenty-four foot wide access from Bishopsgate Street: it required some old buildings to be removed. One and a half acres also belong ing to Mr. Sambrook and suitable for a churchyard is described as ’adjoining’ but was doubtless that shown in the plans some 400 feet north of Folgate Street. (fn. 224)

In March 1712/13 William St. John, on behalf of himself and Jeremy Sambrook, proposed to sell a site for £1,550 to the Commissioners. The proposal was accepted and the title-deeds ordered to be examined. (fn. 225) At this time a plan was made showing the alternative sites for a church either opposite the south end of the later Blossom Street or on the corner of Norton Folgate High Street and Folgate Street (Plate 6a). The church shown on this plan has a rectangular body, some ninety feet long and forty-seven feet wide, with a western apse opening to a circular vestibule under the square tower, this being flanked by lobbies or vestries. The shallow square-ended chancel is also flanked by vestries. A minister's house, with a garden, is sited just east of the church.

The purchase was never made. The next reference to the proposed church in the Commissioners' sioners’ records is in June 1716, when they con sented that Mr. Sambrook and Lord St. John (formerly William St. John) should ’be discharged from the Agreement made by them with the former Commissioners in case Mr. Tilliard [Isaac Tillard] be the purchaser of the Scite mentioned in their Agreement’. (fn. 226) Isaac Tillard purchased the estate and in January 1716/17 the Commis sioners ordered that his proposals for the sale of a site ’in the Precints of Norton Folgate’ should be obtained and that John James, who had become one of the two surveyors, should make another plan of the site. (fn. 227) In March 1716/17 Isaac Tillard proposed to sell to the Commissioners a site in White Lion Yard (Folgate Street) standing ninety-six feet east of Norton Folgate High Street, and also a piece of garden ground containing about one and a quarter acres, as a site for a burial ground. The price asked had fallen to £1,150. (fn. 228) Tillard subsequently described this proposal as being ’more to the Commissioners Liking’ than that of Sambrook and St. John in March 1712/13, but it must have related to virtually the same ground. In the same month James submitted his plan and in May some of the Commissioners were appointed to view the site. (fn. 229) In this last scheme the church is shown in an enclosure on the south side of White Lion (now Folgate) Street, opposite Sott's Hole (Blossom Street), here developed as a straight lane leading to the burial-ground. The church is shown as a simple rectangular building with a shallow projection at its west end and a square tower at its east end. The enclosure is figured as measuring 170 feet fronting to the street, and 120 feet deep, and the minister's house and garden abut the east side.

Writing in January 1726 Sir Isaac Tillard stated that ’in the Viewing thereof the said Commissioners saw another Piece of Ground which they thought more convenient if the same could be obtained and therefore desired Sir Isaac Tillard to purchase it, being part the Grownd of Sir George Wheeler, Knight, and part of other persons’. Sir Isaac did so, at a cost of £1,300, ’being willing to gratify the Commissioners in their good intentions’. (fn. 230) From his description of the ground it is clear that it occupied the site of the north side of the eastern arm of Spital Square. This was probably the purchase made by him in 1719 and possibly included the Candle House site (see page 47). But the Commissioners were by this time in financial difficulties and in the end no purchase was made or church erected.


  • 215. L.P.L., Papers, St. Botolph Bishopsgate, box I, No. (1).
  • 216. Ibid., Minute Book I, 26 Oct. 1711 (Committee Minutes).
  • 217. Ibid., Papers, St. Botolph Bishopsgate, box I, No. (2).
  • 218. Ibid., Minute Book I, 20 Nov. 1711 (Committee Minutes).
  • 219. Ibid., 11 Dec. 1711 (Committee Minutes).
  • 220. Ibid., 18 Dec. 1711 (Committee Minutes).
  • 221. Ellis, pp. 306–7.
  • 222. L.P.L., Committee Minute Book, 26 Aug. 1712.
  • 223. Ibid., 7 Nov. 1712.
  • 224. Ibid., Papers, St. Botolph Bishopsgate, box I, No. (5).
  • 225. Ibid., Minute Book I, 16 March 1712/13.
  • 226. Ibid., 27 June 1716.
  • 227. Ibid., 4 Jan. 1716/17.
  • 228. Ibid., Papers, St. Botolph Bishopsgate, box I, No. (6).
  • 229. Ibid., Minute Book I, 31 May 1717.
  • 230. Ibid., Papers, St. Botolph Bishopsgate, box I, No. (8).