Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Brief history of St Bartholomew-the-Great

The church of St Bartholomew-the-great is one of the oldest parish churches in London and can boast some of the best Romanesque work in the capital. Building began in 1123 with the construction of the Norman chancel and apse of the church, it is the work of this period which has left the largest legacy for the building. The church is certainly a lucky survivor, it could well have been lost at the dissolution if it had not be converted into a parish church, the great fire did not travel as far north as the church and the bombs of the second world war which obliterated the nearby Barbican area and St Giles church thankfully missed much of the Smithfield area. Its survival means it is still one of the most atmospheric churches in London with a fascinating history.

From 1230 the transepts and crossing were added along with a great nave. The transepts survive to this day but most of the nave was lost during the dissolution in the 16th century. After the dissolution the priory was converted into a parish church for the local area. Although the great nave was lost and the transepts were exposed and degraded into a ruinous state many of the monastic buildings were not destroyed such as the lady chapel (which was turned into a private house) and much of the cloisters (of which a fragment still survives). The south end of the nave was sold to construct a private house which incorporated part of the 13th century south door in the gateway of St Bartholomew-the-Great. The area between the church and the gateway was partly used as a burial ground but was also sold for development. The current tower was added in 1638 between the north transept and the one remaining bay of the great nave as a grander entrance to the building. 

Inside the church, the apse and the chancel (shown left©) displays some of the best Norman work in London if not the south east of England. The east end of the church is most impressive due to the size and scale of the Norman work with a triforium and a clerestory (two stages respectively) above the chancel arcade which give it a sense of grandeur lacking in many of the cities medieval churches. When the triforium and the chancel arcades are viewed together they create one of the most impressive portraits of Norman architecture in the country. The east end of the church is without doubt spectacular, but the west end by the crossing, is awkward and disappointing. The destruction of the nave has given the church a strange shape with all the emphasis on the east end of the building. The church would be much more aesthetically pleasing with with the old nave rather than the bland and over sized organ which now dominants the west end. The cloister off the north transept is an interesting but unfortunately much restored fragment of the monastic past of the church (only part of one side remains).

The church was restored several times during the Victorian era first in 1860 and secondly in 1886 by the architect Aston Web (who would go on to design the iconic but dull facade of Buckingham palace in 1913). Both restorations were relativity sympathetic to the church -unlike many in the city during this time. Inside the most obvious outcome of the works was the restoration of the apse which had been dissected with a flat wall at some point probably in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. The wall was removed and the original curve reinstated. Thus the restoration did make a positive contribution to the building as (I am sure most would agree) the east end is much more pleasant after the restoration. The stark contrast in appearance before and after the restoration can be seen in the two pictures above©. An external addition to the building was a new entrance porch at the base of the tower which was by Aston during his restoration. 

This building is of person importance to me. It was visiting this building which first gave me the inspiration to write this blog, my first post was of the gatehouse which leads into the church. This is a post I have wanted to write for some time but I hadn't got round to before as I have kept finding new fragments of the medieval city which interest me (not to say there are no more fragments of medieval London to discover, on the contrary). Before visiting the church I knew little of the medieval legacy of the city which I have cataloged in this blog, it was a genuine moment of enlightenment. Before my visit I assumed like many others that there was nothing left of the medieval city after the fire, bombing and demolition of the last 400 years or so. I hope this blog has inspired others to investigate and research the rich legacy of medieval buildings in London.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

74-75 Long lane

Long lane in Smithfield is a road which runs parallel with Cloth fair, this area of London is rich with medieval remains as the Great Fire which destroyed so much elsewhere did not reach as far north as Smithfield. Numbers 74-75 Long lane (pictured left © 74- right & 75-left) are late sixteenth century townhouses probably built around 1598 as a development of five houses. They are now only a handful of such townhouses to survive in London which pre-date the Great Fire of London. Much of the historic core of the buildings survives but the facades of both have been altered substantially, in the case of number 75 it was rebuilt in the Victorian era along with 76 (which may also contain a heavily altered older core) whilst number 74 was remodeled in the late Georgian era. Rebuilding of the facade rather than the whole house was common place in all periods as it was obviously much cheaper than rebuilding the entire site from scratch. They were often remodeled to give the house a more modern and fashionable look. The rebuilt facade of number 74 has kept the jettied front of the building in which the upper stories  do slightly project out into the street. The top (which is relatively modern) is hung with mathematical tiles, quite uncommon in London, whilst below it is fronted with conventional London brick. The four circular objects are braces which serve a structural purpose added after the new facade, giving the building additional strength as well as extra character. 

By the end of the second world war number 74 (and more dangerously number 73 {right in picture left ©}) due to neglect and possible bomb damage. It was however restored after the war which is when the mathematical tiles were installed on the upper story. Number 73, perhaps a more interesting building with a gable and a large bay was not restored and demolished some time afterwards. 

Numbers 74 and 75 were listed grade 2 by English heritage in 1977 due to their rare (although significantly altered) survival and age.  

The buildings was originally two houses until the ninetieth century when the two shops underneath were installed. They are now linked together and is currently a sushi shop. The buildings were used as offices until recently until being converted back into use as shops and housing above. The alley way to the right of the image above connects to Cloth Fair and an alley 'East passage' which runs directly behind the buildings.