St Bartholomew-the-Great

St Bartholomew-the-Great
St. Bartholomew the Great
The Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield

Exterior of St. Bartholomew-the-Great

Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Founder(s) Prior Rahere
Parish St Bartholomew the Great
Diocese London
Rector Dr Martin Dudley

The Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great is an Anglican church located at West Smithfield in the City of London, founded as an Augustinian priory in 1123 (see St Bartholomew's Hospital for further details.) [1]



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, 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 small Cafe. Very little trace survives of the rest of the monastic buildings.

Interior, the east end: Rahere's tomb to the left, Lady Chapel behind the altar

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 journeyman printer. The north transept had formerly been used as blacksmith's forge. The church was one of relatively few City churches to escape damage during the Second World War. Having been much used, abused and restored over the years the building now presents an interesting and impressive collection of architectures.

Great St Barts 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 of less obvious historical importance. William Hogarth was baptised in St Bartholomew's Church in 1697.

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

Prior William Bolton's oriel window

The oriel window was installed inside the church of St Bartholomew the Great in the 16th c. 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 on the matter:

“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

St Bartholomew the Great church was the location of the fourth wedding in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral 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 Homes" (2009).

The church also housed the chapel of the Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor until 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.

Poet and campaigner 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.


  • John Deane 1544–1563
  • Ralph Watson 1565–1569
  • Robert Binks 1570–1579
  • James Stancliffe M.A. 1580–1581
  • John Pratt B.A. 1582–1586
  • David Dee M.A. 1587–1605
  • Thomas Westfield D.D. 1605–1644
  • John Garrett M.A.1644-1655
  • Randolph Harrison D.D. 1655–1663
  • Anthony Burgess M.A. 1663–1709
  • John Pountney M.A. 1709–1717
  • Thomas Spateman M.A. 1719–1738
  • Richard Thomas Bateman 1738–1760
  • John Moore M.A. 1761–1768
  • Owen Perrot Edwardes M.A. 1768–1814
  • John Richards Roberts 1814-1819
  • John Abbiss 1819-1883
  • William Panckridge 1884-1887
  • Borradaile Savory, 2nd Baronet 1887-1906
  • William F.G. Sandwith 1907-1929
  • Edwin Sidney Savage 1929-1944
  • Newell E. Wallbank 1944-1979
  • Arthur Brown 1979-????
  • David Lawson ????-1995
  • Dr Martin Dudley 1995 - current


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
  • W. C. Ling 1885-1888
  • W.A.B. Russell 1888-1893
  • Clifford Parker 1893-????
  • Leonard S Jefferies ca. 1921
  • Nicholas Choveaux 1934-1948
  • Paul Steinitz 1949-1961
  • Brian Brockless 1961-1971
  • Andrew Morris 1971-1979
  • Brian Brockless 1971-1995

Notable burials and monuments

See also

  • List of churches and cathedrals of London


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.


  1. ^ "The Old Churches of London" Cobb,G: London,Batsford,1942
  2. ^ "The City of London Churches" Betjeman,J Andover, Pikin, 1967 ISBN 0853721122
  3. ^ "London:the City Churches" Pevsner,N/Bradley,S : New Haven, Yale, 1998 ISBN 0300096550
  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 0140094180
  6. ^ "The Visitors Guide to the City of London Churches" Tucker,T: London, Friends of the City Churches, 2006 ISBN 0955394503
  7. ^ "The London Encyclopaedia" Hibbert,C;Weinreb,D;Keay,J: London, Pan Macmillan, 1983 (rev 1993,2008) ISBN 978-1-4050-4924-5
  8. ^ Details from listed building database (199817) . Images of England. English Heritage. accessed 23 January 2009
  9. ^ Patrick Sawer (November 18, 2007). "'Four Weddings' church to charge". Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 

External links

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

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