St Bartholomew-the-Great

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St Bartholomew the Great
The Priory Church of
St Bartholomew the Great
West front of St Bartholomew the Great
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Founder(s) Prior Rahere
Parish St Bartholomew the Great
Diocese London
Province Canterbury
Rector Martin Dudley

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, founded as an Augustinian priory in 1123, adjoining St Bartholomew's Hospital.[1]


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.

The church possesses the most significant 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 erected the church in gratitude after recovering from a fever. Rahere's supposedly miraculous recovery contributed to the church becoming known for its curative powers, with sick people filling its aisles each 24 August (St Bartholomew's Day).

The church was originally part of a priory adjoining St Bartholomew's Hospital,[3] but while the hospital survived the Dissolution about half of the priory church was 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 goes into 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 church door, a path leads along roughly where the south aisle of the nave was. Parts of the cloister also survive and are now home to a small café. Very little trace survives of the rest of the monastic buildings.

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 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 (sometimes shortened to "Great St Barts") is owed to the fact that it is one of two, nearly neighbouring, churches both linked with the hospital and priory and both dedicated to St Bartholomew. The other, inside the hospital precinct, is considerably smaller (hence its naming as St Bartholomew the Less), less architecturally distinguished and less important from a historical point of view. William Hogarth was baptised in St Bartholomew's Church in 1697. Both churches are presently reunited under the current incumbency of Martin Dudley.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.[8] In April 2007 St Bartholomew the Great became the first parish church in Britain to charge an entrance fee for tourists.[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 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 church also housed 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 livery companies and is the setting for their annual religious services: 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 order of seniority), the Worshipful Company of Fletchers, the Worshipful Company of Farriers (chartered 1674), the Worshipful Company of Farmers (chartered 1955). The recently established Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (chartered 1992), Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers (chartered 2004), and Guild of Public Relations Practitioners (established 2000) are also associated with St Bartholomew the Great Priory Church.

St Bartholomew the Great was where the memorial service for William Wallace was held on the 700th anniversary of the Scottish hero's execution.

The poet and campaigner Sir John Betjeman kept a flat opposite the church yard on Cloth Fair. The building is marked by a blue plaque and is today owned by the Landmark Trust.



The interior looking west toward the organ.

A new organ was 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. A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.


  • 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 looking for a stolen sandal from his tomb. People have sometimes claimed to feel uncomfortable inside.

The area around the church was also the place for many executions, especially during the reign of Mary Tudor. It said that during the night 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