St Bartholomew-the-Great

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
St Bartholomew the Great
The Priory Church of
St Bartholomew the Great
West door and entrance to the Priory Church
Country  United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Founder(s) Prior Rahere
Style Norman
Parish St Bartholomew the Great
Diocese London
Province Canterbury
Division Coat of Arms of The City of London.svg City of London
Bishop(s) Rt Rev and Rt Hon Richard Chartres KCVO
Rector Rev Dr Martin Dudley CC

The Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great, also known as Great St Barts, is an Anglican church situated at West Smithfield in the City of London, which was founded as an Augustinian priory in 1123, and still adjoins St Bartholomew's Hospital,[1] of the same foundation.


Interior facing east: The sanctuary is in the centre of the frame, Sir Robert Chamberlayne's Monument (1615) on the left wall and Monument to Percival & Agnes Smallpace on the right wall.

This medieval church has the finest surviving Norman interior in London,[2] which once formed the chancel of a much larger monastic church. It was established in 1123 by Rahere, a prebendary of St Paul's Cathedral and later an Augustinian canon regular, who is said to have founded the church in gratitude for its helping him recover from fever. Rahere's reported miraculous return to good health contributed to the church gaining a reputation for curative powers, following which sick people filled its aisles, especially on the 24 August (St Bartholomew's Day).

The church originally comprised part of a priory adjoining St Bartholomew's Hospital,[3] but while the hospital survived the Dissolution about half of the Priory Church was ransacked before being demolished in 1543.[4] The nave of the church was pulled down (up to the last bay) but the crossing and choir survive largely intact from the Norman and later periods and continued in use as the parish church. The entrance to the church from Smithfield now passes via the churchyard through a tiny surviving fragment of the west front, which is now surmounted by a half-timbered Tudor building. From there to the west door, the church path leads along roughly where the south aisle of the nave formerly existed. Parts of the cloister also survive and are now house a café. Very little trace of its monastic buildings now survive.

The south aisle, looking east toward the Sanctuary and Lady Chapel.

The church escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666,[5] but fell into disrepair, becoming occupied by squatters in the 18th century. It was restored and rebuilt by Sir Aston Webb in the late 19th century.[6] During Canon Edwin Sidney Savage's tenure as Rector the church was further restored at the cost of more than £60,000.[7]

The Lady Chapel at the east end had been previously used for commercial purposes and it was there that Benjamin Franklin served a year as a journeyman printer. The north transept had formerly been used as a blacksmith's forge. The church was one of relatively few City churches to escape damage during the Second World War.

North aspect of St Barts the Great viewed from Cloth Fair

The church's name (commonly shortened to "Great St Barts") derives as a differentiation from its close neighbour, St Barts the Less which was founded at the same time and also remains associated with the hospital: both dedicated to St Bartholomew. St Bartholomew the Less is smaller (hence its name) and is located inside the hospital precinct serving as its place of worship as well as a parish church; it is a most attractive building although of less architectural and historical importance than the Priory Church. William Hogarth was baptised at St Bartholomew the Less in 1697. The churches were reunited in the 21st century under one benefice, with the Rev Dr Martin Dudley as the current incumbent.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.[8] In April 2007 the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great became the first Anglican parish church to charge an entrance fee to tourists not attending worship.[9]

Oriel window[edit]

Prior William Bolton's oriel window

The oriel window was installed inside the church of St Bartholomew the Great in the 16th century by William Bolton, allegedly so that he could spy on the monks. The symbol in the centre panel is a crossbow "bolt" passing through a "tun" (or barrel), a rebus or pun on the name of the Prior.

William Camden famously wrote:

“It may be doubtful whether Bolton, prior of St. Bartholomew, in Smithfield, was wiser when he invented for his name a bird-bolt through his Tun, or when he built him a house upon Harrow Hill, for fear of an inundation after a great conjunction of planets in the watery triplicity".

Other connections[edit]

St Bartholomew the Great church was the location of the fourth wedding in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and of some scenes in various others: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Shakespeare in Love, the 1999 film version of Graham Greene's 1951 novel The End of the Affair, Amazing Grace (2006), Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), and Sherlock Holmes (2009). It was used by T-Mobile as a stand-in for Westminster Abbey in its Royal Wedding advertisement (2011).

The Priory Church also served as the chapel of the Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor before its relocation to St Paul's Cathedral in 2005.

St Bartholomew the Great is the adopted church of various City livery companies hosting religious services throughout the year: the Worshipful Company of Butchers (one of the seven oldest livery companies), the Worshipful Company of Founders (whose hall abuts the church), the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers (chartered 1448 and no.8 in the City order of precendence), the Worshipful Company of Fletchers, the Worshipful Company of Farriers (incorporated 1674), the Worshipful Company of Farmers (incorporated 1955). The recently established Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (incorporated 1992), Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers (incorporated 2004), and Guild of Public Relations Practitioners (incorporated 2000) also enjoy association with St Bartholomew the Great Priory Church.

St Bartholomew the Great hosted a memorial service for Sir William Wallace on the 700th anniversary of the Scottish hero's execution.

The poet and heritage campaigner Sir John Betjeman kept a flat opposite the churchyard on Cloth Fair, EC1. The building, distinguished by a blue plaque in the former Poet Laureate's honour, is nowadays owned by the Landmark Trust.



The interior looking west toward the organ.

The church had an organ installed by John Knopple in 1715. This was superseded by a new organ in 1731 from Richard Bridge. In 1886, it was replaced by the organ from St. Stephen Walbrook which was installed by William Hill. Further modifications were made in 1931 by Henry Speechly & Son, 1957 by N.P. Mander and in 1982–83 by Peter Wells. Specifications of the church organ can be found at the National Pipe Organ Register.

The Priory Church is proud of its excellent choral and musical tradition.


  • Adrian Van Helsding 1715–1721
  • Isaac Orbell 1721–1731
  • Rowland Evans 1731–1739
  • Richard Ward 1740–1777
  • Nicholas Steele 1777–1785
  • Thomas Ball 1785–1793
  • John Whitaker 1793–1805
  • William Bradley 1805–1819
  • John Monro 1819–1827
  • Miss Wafforne 1827–1834
  • Jolly 1834–1836
  • Elizabeth Ellen Wafforne/Williams 1836–1849 (becomes Mrs. Williams in 1843)
  • Mary Ann William 1849–1867
  • Henry John Gauntlett 1872-1876
  • W. C. Ling 1885–1888
  • W.A.B. Russell 1888–1893
  • Clifford Parker 1893–1913
  • Leonard S Jefferies 1919-1934[10]
  • Nicholas Choveaux 1934–1948
  • Paul Steinitz 1949–1961
  • Brian Brockless 1961–1971
  • Andrew Morris 1971–1979
  • Brian Brockless 1979–1995
  • David Trendell 1995–2009
  • Nigel Short (Director of Music) 2009–Present
  • James Sherlock 2009–2012 (appointed to new position of Organist when Nigel Short became Director of Music)
  • Jeffrey Smith 2012–2014 (Organist)

Notable burials and monuments[edit]


The ghost of a monk is said to haunt the church in search of a stolen sandal from his tomb. People have sometimes claimed to feel uncomfortable inside.

The church's environs were also the location of many executions, especially during the reign of Mary Tudor. It said that during some nights there is a strong scent of burning flesh.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Old Churches of London" Cobb,G: London,Batsford,1942
  2. ^ "The City of London Churches" Betjeman,J Andover, Pikin, 1967 ISBN 0-85372-112-2
  3. ^ "London:the City Churches" Pevsner,N/Bradley,S : New Haven, Yale, 1998 ISBN 0-300-09655-0
  4. ^ "The records of St Bartholomew's priory and St Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield: volume 2", Webb, E.A, 1921
  5. ^ Samuel Pepys-The Shorter Pepys Latham,R(Ed) p484: Harmondsworth,1985 ISBN 0-14-009418-0
  6. ^ "The Visitors Guide to the City of London Churches" Tucker,T: London, Friends of the City Churches, 2006 ISBN 0-9553945-0-3
  7. ^ The London Encyclopaedia, C. Hibbert, D. Weinreb, J. Keay: London, Pan Macmillan, 1983 (rev 1993,2008) ISBN 978-1-4050-4924-5
  8. ^ English Heritage. "Details from listed building database (199817)". Images of England.  accessed 23 January 2009
  9. ^ Patrick Sawer (November 18, 2007). "'Four Weddings' church to charge". Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  10. ^

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°31′7.92″N 0°05′58.77″W / 51.5188667°N 0.0996583°W / 51.5188667; -0.0996583