Bradshaw’s Hand Book to London, St James’s Church, Clerkenwell (no.61)

I just need to visit one more area in Clerkenwell before returning to Islington with Mr Bradshaw!

Augustinian Nunnery of St Mary, map, British History Online
Augustinian Nunnery of St Mary, map, British History Online

The Nunnery of St Mary, ‘..a house of Augustinian canonesses, [some say ‘Benedictine’..?] was founded shortly after the adjacent Hospitaller priory of St John in about 1144 by the same man, Jordan de Bricet, the lord of Clerkenwell manor. It stood to the north of the priory, in a field next to the Clerks’ Well..’. The precinct and buildings are thought to be as above, in the early 16C. [Or was he ‘Jorden de Briset’, a Norman knight?]

The nunnery was ‘dissolved’ in 1539 and the property given to the Duke of Norfolk. After the dissolution the close became a residential area for the wealthy, with the nunnery chapel becoming the parish church. (More here.) Newcastle House was probably built in the early 1600s, according to British History Online, by Sir Thomas Kitson of Hengrave Hall, Suffolk, and sold to William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle.

Newcastle House, Clerkenwell Close, c.1790, British History Online
Newcastle House, Clerkenwell Close, c.1790, British History Online

In the picture below the building on the left of the tower is the nave of the nunnery church.

Old St James Church, Clerkenwell, c.1750
Old St James Church, Clerkenwell, c.1750

St James’s Church, Clerkenwell, 1788-92, is the third church on this site, built over the foundations of the nunnery chapel. It was designed by James Carr and the spire imitates that of St Martin in the Fields. James Carr might have been the surveyor to the Apothecaries’ Company and was a Trustee of the City Road Turnpike.

St James's Church, from Clerkenwell Green, 1900, British History Online
St James’s Church, from Clerkenwell Green, 1900, British History Online
The spire of St James's, as seen from Clerkenwell Green
The spire of St James’s, as seen from Clerkenwell Green

The garden was rather bleak when I visited, perhaps just the end of the day bleakness, but even gravestones were laid flat. The plane trees are old, and the railings are 19C, perhaps from the time the gardens were opened to the public in 1890.

IMG_3899

There is still a sense of the past here, in the wandering pattern of the streets, in the atmosphere, and in the quiet residential streets around the church – an area which surprised me.

 

You may be interested in
Clerkenwell Close history
The Augustinian Nunnery of St Mary
Interesting maps and commentary here

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2 comments

  1. Thank you re the names and order. Yes, perhaps one should accept the Museum of London’s authority. London Gardens Online mentions that c.200 people burned at Smithfield are buried in the Churchyard, but as I hadn’t explored thoroughly enough I left this out – and was caught out! Thank you again for your encouragement

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  2. Another very interesting post!

    The “Museum of London Archaeology” monograph on the Nunnery of St Mary has it as Augustinian rather than Benedictine, and names the founders as Jordan de Bricet and Muriel de Munteni.

    Also, I seem to remember reading somewhere (else) that some of the Protestant martyrs burned at the stake in nearby Smithfield by Mary Tudor in 1555-7 were buried in what by then was no longer the priory church of St Mary’s but the parish church of St James’s (the precursor of today’s church).

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