Alien Houses: Hermits and Anchorites of London

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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'Alien Houses: Hermits and Anchorites of London', in A History of the County of London: Volume 1, London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark, ed. William Page( London, 1909), British History Online [accessed 24 July 2024].

'Alien Houses: Hermits and Anchorites of London', in A History of the County of London: Volume 1, London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark. Edited by William Page( London, 1909), British History Online, accessed July 24, 2024,

"Alien Houses: Hermits and Anchorites of London". A History of the County of London: Volume 1, London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark. Ed. William Page(London, 1909), , British History Online. Web. 24 July 2024.


Hermits are so different from anchorites, the first being free to wander as they would and the others being actually inclosed in the cell, (fn. 1) that at first it seems impossible that any difficulty could arise in distinguishing the two kinds of devotees. Yet it is not always easy to make the distinction, for the word hermitage is constantly used with the meaning of anker-hold, (fn. 2) and a recluse is sometimes styled hermit. (fn. 3) There is no doubt, however, that both were to be found in London during the middle ages, for bequests to 'every hermit and recluse in London and the suburbs' (fn. 4) were by no means rare, and Edward III in 1370 gave of his alms 13s. 4d. each to three hermits and eight anchorites in London and the suburbs. (fn. 5)

There were at least two places in or near the City wall where hermits at one time lived. A cell at Bishopsgate was certainly first occupied by hermits although afterwards by anchorites. The king in 1346 granted to Robert, the hermit of Bishopsgate, his protection for a year while collecting alms in divers parts of England. (fn. 6) The same hermitage had been given by the king to a hermit named John de Warwyk four years previously, (fn. 7) and a hermit in 1361 seems still to have been the occupant. (fn. 8) In 1370, however, a bequest was made to the anchorite of Bishopsgate, (fn. 9) and in 1426 mention occurs of a woman recluse there. (fn. 10) An anchoress of that place is said by Stow to have received 40s. a year from the sheriffs of London. (fn. 11)

The hermitage of Cripplegate appears to have been an earlier and more important foundation. It was in existence in the reign of John, who ordered an inquiry about a house which had belonged to Warin the hermit of Cripplegate. (fn. 12) The advowson in the thirteenth century belonged to the king, (fn. 13) so that the hermitage may have been founded by the crown, but if this is not the case, at any rate it owed much to royal grants and protection. A lane and an area near the City wall had been given by the king at some time previous to 1272 for the enlargement of the chapel of St. James (fn. 14) which formed part of the hermitage, and Edward I on several occasions appointed wardens to keep the goods of this chapel from spoliation on the death of the hermit. (fn. 15) In 1300 the king granted the custody to William de Rogate, one of Prince Edward's clerks, (fn. 16) on condition that he found a chaplain to celebrate in the chapel for the king, and that he increased the income of the place by two marks a year. Possibly the resources of the chapel were not very large even then, for a certain Thomas de Wyreford, the chaplain of a hermitage by Cripplegate, was accused, and found guilty before the bishop of London in 1311, of encroaching on the rights of St. Olave's Silver Street: he had heard confessions and administered sacraments without sufficient authority, and had proclaimed an indulgence to those visiting his hermitage. (fn. 17)

The practice of casting the responsibility of the chapel on a keeper was continued by Edward II, (fn. 18) apparently with unsatisfactory results, since in 1330 it was said that through the negligence of these keepers the chapel with its ornaments and the houses belonging to the hermitage had not been properly maintained, (fn. 19) and at last the king in 1341 made over his rights to the abbot of Garendon. (fn. 20) A second chaplain was added in 1347 when Mary de St. Pol, countess of Pembroke, founded in St. James' a chantry for the soul of her late husband, Aymer de Valence, endowing it with a tenement in Fleet Street and another in Sherbourne Lane. (fn. 21)

The history of the chapel from the time it became a cell of Garendon is uneventful.

On the suppression of the abbey in 1536 it came into the king's hands again (fn. 22) and was sold by him in 1543 to William Lambe, (fn. 23) who left it in 1580 to the Clothworkers' Company with sufficient property to pay a minister to officiate there. (fn. 24)

Hermits of Cripplegate
Warin, died 1205 (fn. 25)
Robert de St. Laurence, appointed by Henry III, occurs 1275 (fn. 26) and 1289, (fn. 27) died 1291 (fn. 28)
William de Wynterburn, appointed 1291, (fn. 29) resigned 1296 (fn. 30)
John de Bello, appointed 1296 (fn. 31)
Thomas de Wyreford, occurs 1311 (fn. 32)
Alan Chauns, appointed 1332 (?) (fn. 33)
John de Flytewyk, appointed and resigned 1341 (fn. 34)

The fifteenth-century seal (fn. 35) is a pointed oval. St. James is here represented standing in a canopied niche, with a sprig of foliage on each side; in his right hand he holds a book, in his left an escallop. In the base, under a roundheaded arch, an ecclesiastic kneels in prayer.



A certain William 'le Ermite' or 'le Heremite' disposed of property in the parish of St. Clement Danes in 1265–6 (fn. 36) and 1268–9, (fn. 37) but his hermitage, of course, was not necessarily in that neighbourhood.

A hermit is mentioned twice in the fourteenth century as living near the church of St. Lawrence Jewry, in 1361, (fn. 38) and in 1371 when a bequest was made to Richard de Swepeston by name and to Geoffrey his companion. (fn. 39)

There was also in 1361 a hermit at Charing Cross, whose cell must have been the hermitage known in the fifteenth century as the chapel of St. Katharine. (fn. 40)

The profession of hermit lent itself easily to fraud, and the impostor who in 1412 was sentenced to the pillory for pretending to be a hermit (fn. 41) was probably not the only one of his kind. He is described as going about 'barefooted and with long hair, under the guise of sanctity . . . . . saying that he had made pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Rome, Venice and the city of Seville in Spain; and under colour of such falsehood he had and received many good things from divers persons, to the defrauding and in manifest deceit of all the people.' No such inducement to deceive offered itself in the case of the anchorites, who had to obtain the licence of the bishop to become recluses and whose cells were generally attached either to a parish church or to a religious house (fn. 42) in order to ensure them the means of subsistence, for in an unfrequented place they might have starved.

Katharine wife of William Hardel constructed for herself in 1227 an anker-hold by the chapel of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, (fn. 43) and mention is made in 1228 of an anchorite by the church of 'All Saints Colman,' (fn. 44) and in 1255 of an 'inclusa' of St. Margaret Pattens. (fn. 45)

Behind the chapel of St. Peter at the Tower of London there was an anker-hold known as the hermitage of St. Eustace, mentioned as early as 1236, when the king ordered a penny to be paid every day to the recluse of this place, of which he was patron. (fn. 46) On one occasion it was granted by Henry III to a woman, Idonia de Boclaund, (fn. 47) but in 1371 it was held by a man. (fn. 48)

At the latter date there was another cell in the immediate neighbourhood, for the Swansnest, the abode of John Ingram, an anchorite (fn. 49) in 1371 and 1380, (fn. 50) was close to St. Katharine's Hospital.

A cell was built in the turret of the wall near Aldgate by a recluse named John (fn. 51) who was living there in 1257–8, (fn. 52) but in 1325 the place seems to have survived in name only. (fn. 53) It is true Simon Appulby, priest, made his profession as an anchorite in 1513 before the bishop of London in the priory of Holy Trinity, (fn. 54) which must have been quite close to the spot, and this would argue that the cell had not disappeared; it is however more likely that Appulby lived in the monastery.

The ankerhold attached to the abbey of Westminster (fn. 55) may possibly be traced back to the thirteenth century, since Nicholas the hermit of Westminster occurs in the Pipe Rolls from 1242 to 1245. (fn. 56) But the notices are more frequent later. To the anchorite monk in the church of Westminster, John Bares, citizen of London, left 20s. by will in 1384. (fn. 57) It is reported that the monk recluse there used his influence to secure adherents to the party of the lords appellant against Richard II. (fn. 58) Henry V after his father's death confessed to Humphrey of Lambeth, the anchorite of Westminster. (fn. 59) Sir John London, recluse in the church of St. Peter, who figures in the list of benefactors of Syon Monastery, (fn. 60) received a bequest of £10 in 1426 from the duke of Exeter. (fn. 61) The cell was sometimes occupied by a woman: Henry VI in 1443 gave an annuity of 6 marks to the anchoress there, (fn. 62) and forty years afterwards a similar annuity was granted also to a female recluse by Richard III. (fn. 63)

The licence of the bishop of London to Beatrice de Meaus in 1307 to live as an anchoress near the church of St. Peter Cornhill in a place where anchorites used to live before (fn. 64) proves that the cell was not then a new foundation. (fn. 65) It was inhabited by Beatrice or by another woman in 1324, (fn. 66) but in 1345 and 1348 a male recluse was in possession. (fn. 67)

Mention is made in 1345 of an anchorite, and in 1361 of an anchoress at St. Benet Fink. (fn. 68)

A recluse called Lady Joan lived in St. Clement Danes in 1426. (fn. 69)

The anchoress at Allhallows London Wall, for whom the sum of 4 marks was received by the wardens of the church from the bishop of London in 1459, (fn. 70) was succeeded in a year or two by an anchorite, William Lucas, who died about 1486. The accounts of this church contain some interesting details concerning recluses of this kind. In these they figure not only as the recipients of charity but as contributors to the church. Among other sums given by Lucas are 3s. 4d. to church work, 2s. 8d. to 'ye makyng of ye new bolles of laton of ye beme,' and 3s. 4d. for painting the church. Simon, to whom the cell was granted after Lucas' death, gave to the church on one occasion a stand of ale, on another 32s. towards the new aisle, and in 1500–1 he presented a chalice weighing 8 oz. An anchorite's servant probably had to be useful in many ways, for a payment is recorded to Simon's servant for plastering the church wall. Simon the Anker was the author of a treatise called The Fruit of Redemption, printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1514. Since in 1532 a grant of the next presentation was made by the Court of Common Council to an alderman, it must be concluded that the advowson of the cell then belonged to the City. (fn. 71) It appears to have been suppressed in 1538, the anker-house being given to the City swordbearer. (fn. 72)

There was also a cell attached to the Blackfriars, and here Katharine Foster lived with her maid from 1471 to 1479. (fn. 73) It is believed that this house is identical with that inhabited before by an anchorite known as the hermit of New Brigge. The place must have been occupied until the Dissolution, for in 1548 Katharine Man, former recluse of the Blackfriars, relinquished her right to the anchoress-house to the commonalty and received a pension of 20s. (fn. 74)


  • 1. Arch. Journ. xxiv, 342.
  • 2. Fosbroke, British Monachism, 494. The hermitage behind the Tower in which a recluse lived is an example of this use. Bayley, Hist. of Tower of London, 125.
  • 3. Friar John Ingram who is designated hermit in a will of 1371, Sharpe, Cal. of Wills, ii, 147, is spoken of as a recluse in another of 1376, ibid. ii, 189. There is said at one time to have been an anchorite called the hermit of New Brigge living near the Black Friars. Steele, Anchoresses of the West, 100.
  • 4. Sharpe, Cal. of Wills, i, 654; ii, 107, 145, 147, 220, 234, 237; Nichols, Royal Wills, 153.
  • 5. a Devon, Issue Roll of Thomas de Brantingham, 395.
  • 6. Cal. of Pat. 1345–8, p. 194.
  • 7. Ibid. 1340–3, p. 501.
  • 8. Sharpe, Cal. of Wills, ii, 107.
  • 9. Ibid. ii, 146.
  • 10. Nicholas, op. cit. 250.
  • 11. Stow, Surv. of Lond. (ed. Strype), ii, 90.
  • 12. Rot. Lit. Claus. (Rec. Com.), i, 60.
  • 13. Cal. of Pat. 1274–81, p. 99.
  • 14. Edward I in 1290 speaks of the grant as made by his predecessors. Ibid. 1281–92, p. 401.
  • 15. The mayor of London was made keeper in 1275, ibid. 1272–81, p. 99, the constables of the Tower in 1281, ibid. 450, and the treasurer and the custos of London in 1286, ibid. 1281–92, p. 226.
  • 16. Cal. of Pat. 1292–1301, p. 532.
  • 17. Lond. Epis. Reg. Baldock and Gravesend, fol. 29.
  • 18. Grants of the custody were made in 1326 and 1330. Cal. of Pat. 1324–7, p. 251 and 1330–4, p. 14.
  • 19. Ibid. 1330–4, p. 59.
  • 20. Ibid. 1340–3, p. 145.
  • 21. Sharpe, Cal. of Letter Bk. F, 180. The foundation may have been earlier, for the abbey had had licence to acquire two messuages in the City and suburbs from the countess in 1343. Cal. of Pat. 1343–5, p. 133.
  • 22. Henry appointed two persons to serve the chapel in January 1537 (L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 311 (28)), at least this is presumably what is meant by the grant of the chapel to William Melton, chaplain, and William Draper, 'literatus,' since it was granted to them again for life in 1548 five months after the sale to Lambe. Ibid. xviii (1), p. 547.
  • 23. Ibid. xviii (1), 346 (66). Stow in his Survey, iii, 128, says that Lambe obtained it from Edward VI, a mistake noticed by Newcourt, Repert. Eccl. Lond. i, 369.
  • 24. Newcourt, op. cit. i, 369.
  • 25. Rot. Lit. Claus. (Rec. Com.), i, 60.
  • 26. Cal. of Pat. 1272–81, p. 99.
  • 27. Sharpe, Cal. of Letter Bk. A, 118.
  • 28. Cal. of Pat. 1281–92, p. 464.
  • 29. Ibid.
  • 30. Ibid. 1292–1301, p. 185.
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. Lond. Epis. Reg. Baldock and Gravesend, fol. 29.
  • 33. Cal. of Pat. 1330–4, p. 233. He is one of four to whom the custody of the chapel was granted, but as he is designated 'heremyt' it seems probable that he would serve the place.
  • 34. Cal. of Pap. Letters, ii, 554. He had been a Benedictine and had left the order and been sent by the abbot of Garendon to the hermitage. He appears to have soon tired of this and returned to the Benedictines.
  • 35. B.M. Seals, lxviii, 1.
  • 36. Hardy and Page, Cal. of Lond. and Midd. Fines, 43. The messuage is described as in 'Denschemanparosch' which sounds like 'Danish men's parish.'
  • 37. Ibid. 45.
  • 38. Sharpe, Cal. of Wills, ii, 107.
  • 39. Ibid. ii, 147. In Anchoresses of the West, 240, these are said to be recluses, but authority for the statement is not given.
  • 40. The chapel was granted to the king's servitor, Edmund Tankard, in 1462. Cal. of Pat. 1461–7, p. 214. The hermitage is mentioned in a lease by the abbot of Westminster, 1519. Doc. of D. and C. of Westm. Westm. parcel 3, pt. 4.
  • 41. Letter Bk. I, fol 113, cited by Riley, Memorials of Lond. 584.
  • 42. Fosbroke, op. cit. 492, 494. The author of Piers the Plowman knew London well, and while referring to wandering hermits in disparaging terms he evidently approved of anchorites. Piers the Plowman (ed. Skeat), i, 2, 3.
  • 43. Rot. Lit. Claus. (Rec. Com.), ii, 181b.
  • 44. In the will of Richard de Elmham, canon of St. Martin's, Arch. Journ. xxiv, 343.
  • 45. a Guildhall MS. 111, fol. 1260.
  • 46. Bayley, Hist. of the Tower of Lond. 125.
  • 47. Ibid.
  • 48. Sharpe, op. cit. ii, 147.
  • 49. He is called a recluse in a will of 1376. Ibid. ii, 189.
  • 50. Ibid. ii, 147, 228.
  • 51. Hund. R. (Rec. Com.) i, 413, 420. He is here described as a hermit, but it is evident from a fine of 1257–8 that he was a recluse.
  • 52. Hardy and Page, op. cit. 39.
  • 53. The garden on the south side of Aldgate called 'The Hermitage' was then leased for 10s. a year to Peter de Staundone. Sharpe, Cal. of Letter Bk. E, 193.
  • 54. Lond. Epis. Reg. Fitz James, fol. 41.
  • 55. It was on the south of the chancel of St. Margaret's. See Lease of 1730 among Doc. of D. and C. of Westm. Westm. Extra. No. 14.
  • 56. Guildhall MS. 111, fol. 956, 988, 1004.
  • 57. Lond. Epis. Reg. Braybrook, fol. 389–90.
  • 58. Stow, Ann. (ed. 1615), 318.
  • 59. Steele, op. cit. 240.
  • 60. Add. MS. 22285, fol. 70.
  • 61. Nichols, Royal Wills, 250.
  • 62. Harris Nicholas, Proc. and Ord. of the Privy Council, v, 282.
  • 63. Steele, op. cit. 240.
  • 64. Lond. Epis. Reg. Baldock and Gravesend, fol. 9.
  • 65. This might otherwise have been inferred from an inquisition of 1324, where the jurati state that the house in which an anchoress lives was built eight years ago by the parishioners of St. Peter's Cornhill on the king's soil. Of course this would not make the date of foundation 1307, but there was often great vagueness as to time. Parl. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 419.
  • 66. Ibid.
  • 67. Sharpe, Cal. of Wills, i, 483, 638.
  • 68. Ibid. i, 483; ii, 107.
  • 69. Nichols, Royal Wills, 250.
  • 70. Churchwardens' Accts. of Allhallows, London Wall.
  • 71. Rec. of Corp. of Lond. Repert. viii, fol. 214b.
  • 72. Ibid. Repert. x, fol. 36b–37b.
  • 73. Steele, op. cit. 100.
  • 74. Ibid.