Colleges: St Thomas on London Bridge

A History of the County of London: Volume 1, London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1909.

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'Colleges: St Thomas on London Bridge', in A History of the County of London: Volume 1, London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark, (London, 1909) pp. 572-574. British History Online [accessed 20 April 2024]


The chapel on London Bridge was founded before 1205, in honour of St. Thomas à Becket, by Peter de Colechurch, (fn. 1) the chaplain who supervised the building of the bridge (fn. 2) begun in 1176. (fn. 3) The original structure was of very short duration, for it was burned down in 1212, (fn. 4) but it was rebuilt when the bridge was restored. From the first there are said to have been there two priests and four clerks, (fn. 5) who may probably be identified with the preachers licensed by King John in 1207 to preach in aid of the bridge. (fn. 6) A grant of a corrody in 1277 shows that there were then two or more chaplains, and that they and other persons called brothers of the Bridge lived to gether, (fn. 7) though where the house was situated is not indicated. (fn. 8) The Bridge-house, however, was referred to in a will of 1272, (fn. 9) and between 1265 and 1271 the brothers of the Bridge-house assented to the alienation of certain tenements which had been left to them by Richard le Keu on condition that they maintained a chantry. (fn. 10) Three other chantries were established in the chapel in 1334, 1349, and 1363, (fn. 11) yet it is not certain that the number of chaplains increased correspondingly, since in 1350 there were four, and in 1381 five chaplains and a clerk. (fn. 12) More priests, however, must have been needed than before, and this may have been the cause of the building of a new chapel between 1384 and 1397. (fn. 13) There is an interesting account of the contents of the chapel in 1350: (fn. 14) the books comprised three portifories, three Legends of Saints, four psalters, three graduals, a Tropary, two antiphonars, (fn. 15) a quire, an Ordinal with a Martyrology of the Saints, an 'Epistolar,' and three missals, one having large gilt letters; among the vestments were four sets for weekdays, one for Sundays, and one for festivals; the plate was of no great quantity, but the relics included a portion of the True Cross, and some inclosed in a purse which was kept on the altar for the pilgrims who visited the chapel.

The history of the chapel in the 15th century was marked by more than one contest. The priests were suspended in 1419–20 for some reason which is not disclosed, but which to the wardens appeared unjust; the difficulty, however, could not have been very serious, as absolution was obtained from the bishop of London for half a mark. (fn. 16)

The oblations of the chapel, and the administration of the sacraments by the chaplains were the subject of a dispute in 1433 between the rector of St. Magnus on one side and the mayor and commonalty of the City and the wardens of the bridge on the other, the former declaring that the chapel was within the parish and that the oblations belonged to him, the others maintaining that it had always been free from payments to the rector. (fn. 17) The bishop of London decided that the chaplains should have the oblations for the use and work of the chapel and the bridge, paying to the rector 20d. every year in lieu of all claims, and that they might freely administer the sacraments in the chapel as had ever been the custom. (fn. 18)

A few years later a controversy arose between the bishop of London and the bridgemasters over the suspension of the priests of the chapel; (fn. 19) and a papal bull confirming the privileges of the chaplains appears to have been necessary in 1465–6. (fn. 20)

At this date the pope granted an indulgence of forty days to those who visited the chapel on the Feast of St. Thomas of Canterbury, and on the day of his Translation, and contributed to the repairs of the chapel; and in the same year he increased the indulgence offered to 100 days and extended its benefits to those also who visited the chapel on Good Friday and the Feast of the Assumption of B. V. Mary. (fn. 21)

Money may then have been needed for repairs or improvements, and the offerings of the many were the best means of raising it. Only a few persons could make such gifts as Anneys Breteyn, who in 1489 gave £40, in part payment of £60, towards some work within the building. (fn. 22)

The cost of the chapel for the year ending at Michaelmas, 1484, was £33 5s. 3d, (fn. 23) almost exactly the same sum as in 1381–2, (fn. 24) so that there may have been five chaplains in 1484 as in 1381, yet the number evidently varied, wages being paid in 1444–5 (fn. 25) to four chaplains and in 1494 to two chaplains and four clerks. (fn. 26)

It was decided by the City in October, 1538, (fn. 27) that from henceforth there should be only two priests and a 'conduct' in the Bridge-chapel, the others being dismissed with a quarter's wages. In 1541–2 there was only one priest, with a clerk as assistant, (fn. 28) and in 1548 he was ordered to deliver the goods and ornaments to the bridge-master and shut up the chapel, (fn. 29) which was subsequently defaced and turned into a dwelling-house. (fn. 30)

There is a seal of the brotherhood of the end of the thirteenth century. (fn. 31) It is oval in shape, and represents St. Thomas the archbishop wearing mitre and pall. Seated on a throne, he lifts his right hand in benediction, while in his left he holds a long cross. On each side there is a long candle in a candlestick. In the base, under the arch of a bridge, the prow of a boat is seen on the water. Legend :—

SIGILL' BEATI: THOM . . . . RTIRIS: D' PONTE: LON . . . . . .


  • 1. Stow, Surv. of Lond. (ed. Strype), i, 54. Colechurch died four years before the bridge was completed in 1209, and was buried in the chapel, which must, therefore, have been finished, or nearly so, at that date. Newcourt, Repert. Eccl. Lond. i, 395. Peter, who was a priest of St. Mary Colechurch, the church in which St. Thomas had been baptized, built the chapel at his own cost. Welch, Hist. of the Tower Bridge, 29.
  • 2. Rot. Lit. Pat. (Rec. Com.), i, 58.
  • 3. a Welch, op. cit. 29.
  • 4. Matt. Paris, Chron. Maj. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 536.
  • 5. Stow, op. cit. i, 54.
  • 6. Rot. Lit. Pat. (Rec. Com.), i, 58. Wace, the king's almoner, was one of them. He had been made warden of the bridge in 1205. Rot. Lit. Claus. (Rec. Com.), i, 49.
  • 7. Liber Albus in Mun. Gildhall. Lond. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 449–52.
  • 8. Dr. Sharp thinks they lived in a house attached to the chapel. Cal. of Letter Bk. B. 216, n. 2. The Bridge-house in Southwark does not seem to be mentioned until the 15th century.
  • 9. a Welch, op. cit. 90.
  • 10. Sharpe, Cal. of Letter Bk. C. 61. Queen Eleanor of Provence, as warden of London Bridge, made the tenements over to the Friars of the Sack subject to the same condition.
  • 11. a Welch, op. cit. 73.
  • 12. b Ibid. 257.
  • 13. c Ibid. 71. Mr. Welch thinks that only the lower chapel had existed before.
  • 14. It is an indenture between the outgoing wardens of the bridge and the new wardens. Riley, Mem. of Lond. 263.
  • 15. a Two new antiphonars and two calendars were added in 1397. Welch, op. cit. 76.
  • 16. b Ibid. 73.
  • 17. Lond. Epis. Reg. Gilbert, fol. 201–2.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. Rec. of Corp. of Lond. Index to Journals.
  • 20. a Welch, op. cit. 73.
  • 21. Ibid 71.
  • 22. a Ibid. 72.
  • 23. Arnold, Chron. (ed. 1811), 271 and 272.
  • 24. a Welch, op. cit. 257. The chaplains were paid 11s. 5½d. a week and the clerk 1s. 3d.
  • 25. b Stow, op. cit. i, 54.
  • 26. c Welch, op. cit. 72.
  • 27. Rec. of the Corp. of Lond. Repert. x, fol. 48b.
  • 28. a Welch, op. cit. 77.
  • 29. Rec. of Corp. of Lond. Repert. xi, fol. 412b.
  • 30. Ibid. Repert. xii, No. 1, fol. 35.
  • 31. B. M. Seals, D.C.E. 148.