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The Story of the S. Bartholomew’s Church and Parish

S. Bartholomew’s Church

The present church was built 1903-04 to the designs of the eminent Arts & Crafts architect William Douglas Caroe (1857-1938). The architectural historian Pesner describes the building as, ‘full of free Perpendicular detail and careful craftsmanship’ – it is indeed an exquisite and intimate work of architecture and design. The history of S. Bartholomew, dating back nearly 800 years, is unusual in that the church has been built and rebuilt five times and has stood in three different locations.

Little S. Bartholomew

The first church, called Little S. Bartholomew is known to have exited since 1225. It had the name Little to distinguish it from the two other City churches of the same dedication, S. Bartholomew the Great and S. Bartholomew the Less, both in Smithfield. Little S. Bartholomew was located in the heart of the City next to where the Bank of England was later to be built. This first church was re-founded and endowed by King Edward III in 1349 who gave it to his great monastic foundation of the Abbey of S. Mary of Grace that was beside the Tower of London. Little S. Bartholomew was rebuilt in 1438 in the Perpendicular style of red bricks with stone dressings. It is this second church that is believed to be the inspiration for Caroe’s designs in 1903. King Edward’s foundation of the Abbey of S. Mary of Grace was a Royal Free Chapel and by the sixteenth-century had become the third richest Cistercian community in Britain. However, in 1539 the abbey was dissolved and the patronage of S. Bartholomew passing from the Abbot to the King. Since the reign of King Henry VIII the parish has been under the patronage of the Crown.

King Edward III

King Edward III

During the sixteenth-century the church became closely associated with the reforming and protestant movement. Sir William Capel, Lord Mayor of London, paid for substantial repairs to the church – Capel was an influential reformer. By marriage his family was joined with William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester and Lord Chamberlain. Paulet, though once a supporter of Cardinal Wolsey, had later led King Henry’s forces against the Pilgrimage of Grace, a movement that had sought to uphold the Catholic faith. With such high placed associates S. Bartholomew’s became a noted centre for the preaching and practice of the new reformed religion. In his later and most radical years Miles Coverdale, one of England’s key reformers, frequently preached at S. Bartholomew. He chose to be buried in the church, albeit that he was the rector of the nearby parish of S. Magnus-the-Martyr. Coverdale had been an Augustinian Friar but by the 1520s was a keen reformer, especially of the liturgy being celebrated in English rather than Latin. In 1535 he translated the Bible into English for purposes of printing, thus producing the first printed Bible in English, the so-called Coverdale Bible. His legacy to the Church has been great; it is his translations of the Psalms that were later used in The Book of Common Prayer, and his translation into English of the Roman Canon was in 1980 authorized by Pope John Paul II as the Roman Catholic, Anglican Use.

Miles Coverdale

Miles Coverdale

By the seventeenth-century the patronage of King James I and King Charles I influenced the parish away from the radical reformers with the appointment of High Church rectors. Notable among these High Churchmen was Dr John Grant, Rector 1623-1644 and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. While Grant was the parish priest the church was restored and beautified according to the principles of the Caroline divines (those Anglicans who during the reign of King Charles I sought to emphasise the Catholic nature of the Church of England). The altar was returned to the east end of the church, raised on steps and railed in, kneelers were placed throughout the church – all of this emphasised the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist and the ‘beauty of holiness’. The numbers receiving Holy Communion increased, as did those being catechised (being taught the faith). However, Grant and his parishioners were working in an atmosphere of growing tension as the puritans started to asset their presence in London. The puritan aim was to rid the Church of all priests and bishops, all altars and all existing liturgies. One of the puritans’ strategies for spreading their teaching was to appoint lecturers, often non-ordained ministers, to parishes. These lecturers would preach puritan beliefs – such a strategy was introduced at S. Bartholomew.

Dr Grant was forced to cease ministering in the parish in 1644, although he managed to remain living in the rectory for another two years until he was deprived of that too. Into the parish were intruded a series of lecturers. First came Dr John Lighfoot, Master of S. Catherine’s College, Cambridge, his appointment to S. Bartholomew gave him a pulpit in London while he attended the puritan Westminster Assembly. His Erastian views proved even too radical for the Assembly, he believed that the Church should be subject to the State and the State should punish sin. He soon left London and in 1650 was appointed Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University. He was followed as minister by Thomas Cawton a puritan yet who supported King Charles. Although he was fined for it, Cawton permitted the royal arms of King Charles I to remain hanging in S. Bartholomew during the Commonwealth regime and two days after the King’s martyrdom he openly prayed for King Charles II. Fearing puritan retaliation Cawton fled into exile to Rotterdam. Oliver Cromwell himself appointed the next minister – Sidrach Simpson, Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge. Although Simpson was minister of S. Bartholomew for two years he hardly spent any time in the parish. His first act as minister was to preach a sermon denouncing Cromwell for which he was arrested and imprisoned in Windsor Castle. In 1655 Dr George Hall was appointed lecturer. He had been Archdeacon of Cornwall but had been deprived for a while by the Parliamentarians; at the Restoration of the monarchy he returned to an active ministry as a priest and was consecrated Bishop of Chester in 1662.

Parish Boundary Markers

By 1655, Cromwell’s puritan regime was starting to falter and it can be recognised in the parish minute books (the minutes of the church’s vestry) that the parishioners were feeling more confident in their opposition to the puritans. The next minister imposed upon the parish was Philip Nye and he appointed his locum John Loder to S. Bartholomew. The period of 1655 -1660 were ones of continuous dispute. Loder would not celebrate the Holy Communion nor baptise children, and so the vestry would not pay him and, it would seem, would not attend his services. Finally the vestry had his appointment annulled in early 1660 but just in case he should return and attempt to preach they paid a carpenter to remove the stairs to the pulpit, and should he manage to get into the pulpit, the carpenter removed the pulpit door too, so that Loder could be easily pulled out! All of this though was happily unnecessary as King Charles II returned to London in May 1660 and the following month the King appointed Dr Ralph Brideoake, who had been High Master of Manchester Free School but deprived for his Royalist sympathies, as Rector.

S. Bartholomew-by-the-Exchange

S. Bartholomew Plaque

During the late sixteenth-century the locality of the parish had developed from a commercial area of retailers into the City’s financial district. It was at this time that the church came to be known as S. Bartholomew-by-the-Exchange. In 1565 Sir Thomas Gresham had built a commercial exchange in the parish, imitating that in Antwerp. Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter to the exchange in 1571, creating the Royal Exchange – the beginnings of the Square Mile. The parish occupied one of the wealthiest areas of the City and this wealth is seen in the sumptuous silver and gilt church plate that was commissioned in the 1660s to replace that lost during the Commonwealth. (This plate is now in the care of S. Margaret, Lothbury.)

Archbishop John Sharp

Dr Ralph Brideoake, who was also Rector of Standish and Dean of Salisbury while Rector of S. Bartholomew, saw two great disasters come to the parish. During the 1660s successive waves of the plague struck London. The parish consisted at this time of just 600 people and in one year alone 92 parishioners died. It was the responsibility of the churchwardens and clerk to ‘mark’ the houses that had been visited by the plague, and they had to oversee the collection and speedy burial of the dead. The parish accounts also show expenses for whipping – a brutal measure to deter vagrancy; it was vagrancy that was thought to be the means by which the plague was carried about. The second catastrophe was the Great Fire of London in 1666. The church burnt down, save for the tower. Brideoake became Bishop of Chichester in 1675 and was followed by Dr John Sharp who was later Archbishop of York.

The third S. Bartholomew was the work of Sir Christopher Wren who oversaw the rebuilding 1674-83. The new church covered the footprint of the old and very unusually for Wren included a long chancel and a side chapel, thus recreating the shape of a mediaeval church. The base of the tower that had survived the Great Fire was retained. The rebuilding cost £5077.

Pulpit detail

S. Bartholomew-by-the-Exchange was demolished in 1841 though the fittings were retained; the pulpit and the font in the present S. Bartholomew on Stamford Hill are those of the Wren rebuilding. They are exuberant works in the extravagant English Baroque style of Grinlin Gibbons – though there is no evidence that they are by the famed carver himself. The font cover does however include Gibbons’ signature pea pods, some open and some closed, a tantalizing clue his workshop perhaps?

Grinlin Gibbons

After Wren’s rebuilding, and for the next 150 years, S. Bartholomew served the wealthy merchants and financiers of central London. Her rectors often held the living in plurality as the parish provided a lucrative stipend and curates carried out the actual ministry in the parish. Dr Benjamin Woodroffe, Rector 1687-1711 was also Principal of Gloucester Hall, Oxford (later Worcester College). He followed Dr John Sharp as Rector and the two of them set up The Greek College in Oxford, an ecumenical venture to provide Greek Orthodox Christians access to an English university.

Sir Christopher Wren

By the nineteenth-century the parish had changed beyond all recognition from its original mediaeval founding. The geographical area of the parish was always small, consisting of just ten streets and alleys. When the Bank of England was constructed in the 1820s it took up many of the residential properties. In 1838 plans were formed to rebuild and expand the Royal Exchange and widen Threadneedle Street – the Corporation of London petitioned for the demolition of S. Bartholomew.

In 1840 the church was demolished, with it would seem little comment. John Carlos, editor of The Gentleman’s Magazine lamented, ‘The apathy with which the removal of S. Bartholomew’s Church will be remembered and felt when perhaps the loss of this church will be found a trifle in comparison with the wholesale destruction to which, ere long, the churches of the metropolis may chance to be destined.’ But its demolition was not the end of the church. In an extraordinary piece of Victorian engineering S. Bartholomew was almost completely rebuilt in Moorfield, on the edge of the City, an area that remained very populous. The replica church was built to the designs of Charles Cockerell and contained many of the fittings from the previous building.

S. Bartholomew, Moor Lane

1850 Church Plate

S. Bartholomew, Moor Lane was completed in 1850. A new set of church plate was commissioned, chalice, pattens and flagon all in the newly popular gothic style. These were, in time, taken to Stamford Hill along with the church chest and its contents and a set of altar rails. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel presented the newly refounded church with a set of folio service books – these the present church still retains.

John Keble

S. Bartholomew had long been associated with the High Church tradition and at Moor Lane the parish became distinctly Anglo-Catholic. From the pulpit, John Keble, one of the founders of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement, delivered his last sermon, and the church was one of only a very few where Fr Ignatius OSB preached. Fr Ignatius had revived the Benedictine Order in the Church of England but was unpopular with the Church’s establishment for his advanced Catholic views.

S. Bartholomew, Moor Lane was to have only a short life. The building of Moorgate Station in 1863 and then its gradual expansion thereafter engulfed much of the parish (as had been the experience in the 1820s when the Bank of England was constructed beside S. Bartholomew-by-the-Exchange). What was left of the parish was amalgamated into the neighbouring parish of S. Giles, Cripplegate in 1902. S. Bartholomew was demolished and once more was on the move. The site was sold for the princely sum of £20,400 and the proceeds used to build S. Bartholomew on Stamford Hill between 1903-04.

The S. Alban’s Mission

In 1897 the Bishop of London sent Fr James Goddard to South Tottenham to start a mission. He was assisted by Sister Maud, a deaconess. The Diocesan Board for Mission defined the mission as one to the upper-middle and professional classes, which at the close of the nineteenth-century might still have described the area.

All Hallows’ Tottenham







The work was called the S. Alban’s Mission and in 1899 a mission hall was built in Stonebridge Road near Seven Sisters. The early success of the mission allowed for the refounding of S. Bartholomew to the area and the formation of a new parish on the north side of Stamford Hill created out of S. John-at-Hackney, S. Anne’s, South Tottenham and Holy Trinity, Tottenham Green. Many of the fittings from the mission hall were transferred to the new S. Bartholomew and remain there today, such as the altar cross, Lady Chapel gradine, litany desk and the chairs throughout the church.

The locality of the parish: Stamford Hill and South Tottenham

Bruce Castle

The hill stands four miles due north of the City and running over its centre is ancient Ermine Street, the Roman road from London to York. Stamford Hill first developed as a farming hamlet during the Middle Ages. Its name meaning ‘the hill by the sandy ford.’  By the early seventeenth-century the area was being intensively farmed with the area of the present parish coming within manors of Tottenham and Hackney.

1740s House

1740s House

The hill’s proximity to the City made it a desirable location for merchants to build large properties. Little remains now of these grand eighteenth-century houses, though occasionally if you look above the shop fronts you will see the remnants of a Georgian house, or you may come across a Regency gate pier but which no longer leads to a sweeping drive. Like Stoke Newington, Stamford Hill became an early suburb especially for those who did not wish to live under the social restrictions that could accompany being a non-Anglican.

Regency urn

In the Georgian period many non-conformists lived on the hill, and from the late eighteenth-century the Jewish de Rothschild and the Montefiore families had estates here, starting the tradition of Stamford Hill being the home for many Jews.

John Constable

One of these large properties was Markfield House; here lived the Hobson family in the early nineteenth-century. In 1806 the young John Constable joined the household as the drawing tutor. Up until this time Constable’s artistic work had chiefly been as a portraitist, while in the parish he started to sketch the clouds and sky marking a significant change in his artistic development. His Markfield sketchbook is now in the Louvre.

Hangmans Field

The gentility of the area was disturbed by the frequent presence of highwaymen. On the site of the inn The Turnpike House, located on corner Stamford Hill and Ravensdale Road, was a turnpike where road tolls were charged. As the coaches slowed to go up the hill to the turnpike they offered easy pickings for highwaymen. The infamous Dick Turpin and Tom King made a pact to work together at a meeting in a wood on Stamford Hill, probably very close to where the church and vicarage now stand! To deter this crime a gibbet was set up on the corner of the High Road and S. Anne’s Road (formerly Hangman’s Lane).

Ravensdale Road

The locality of the future parish was to start changing after the arrival of the railways, especially after the building of South Tottenham station in 1871 and Stamford Hill station in 1872. The older properties and their gardens were sold off for building plots.

Stamford Hill Station

By the end of the century much of the parish had been built over by terraced housing. Many of the street names recall places in Ireland (Rostrevor, Barry, Ferndale and Ravensdale) indicative of the large numbers of Irish people who were moving into the area. By 1900 north London was home to the largest Irish community outside Ireland.

S. Ignatius Church

In response to this, the Roman Catholic hierarchy together with the Jesuits founded the Parish and College of S. Ignatius in 1897 on the High Road. The church is a great landmark in the area and is built in a distinctively Flemish style. The young Alfred Hitchcock attended the college – his gothic tastes are thought to have been inspired by the church and college.

The considerable growth of the local population in late Victorian times, coupled with fears for cholera outbreaks, led Tottenham Borough Council to build a pumping station in 1883 in what had been the grounds of Markfield House. This magnificent steam beam engine is still in working order and forms the centrepiece of the museum now on the site.

S. Bartholomew on Stamford Hill

Rainbow over church

The story of S. Bartholomew during the twentieth-century has been one of a parish serving the ever-changing communities of the locality. The large numbers of Irish people of the early twentieth-century have been replaced by a substantial Jewish community, most of whom are of the orthodox Hassidic tradition.

Jewish street procession

In the 1950s many peoples from the West Indies arrived into the area and then since the late 1990s significant numbers of people from Eastern Europe and South America have arrived. The richness of diversity is unique even for London – in the council ward of South Tottenham over 300 languages are spoken, the greatest number anywhere in the UK.

What remained of any open land in the parish was build over in the 1920s and 30s with metro-land semis. Several streets were severely damaged by enemy bombs in the Second World War, which is discernable still with the occasional row of 1950s houses. On its eastern boundary the parish meets the River Lea. This navigable river was one of the industrial arteries of London and up until the 1980s a significant amount of manufacture took place in factories along the river. The last of these factories in the parish closed in 2007.

River Lea

Bishop of Fulham Preaching

The Catholic ethos of the parish that had developed at S. Bartholomew, Moor Lane was transferred to Stamford Hill and continues to characterise the church. Fr James Tute, Vicar 1956-80 was a keen supporter and pioneer of the modern ecumenical movement. He moved the worshipping life of the church to share as much as possible in common with all Western Christians. S. Bartholomew is very conscious of its ecumenical vocation and during the incumbency of Fr Roderick Leece (1991-2005) a local ecumenical cluster of churches was established. One of the prime objects for the cluster is our joint work for a local child contact centre. In accord with our ecumenical vocation the parish opted in 1994 to maintain its belief in the historic faith with regards priestly orders being essentially male. This of course has not prevented us from receiving the ministry of women as lay reader and pastoral assistant.

Eric Gill Memorial Stone

Caroe Carving

Caroe Vestments

From our Edwardian forebears we have inherited a remarkable and beautiful church in the Arts & Crafts style. It has been nationally listed as Grade II* and its maintenance in good order, though a considerable responsibility, is also a matter of pleasure and pride. The architect William Caroe not only designed the building but also many of the fittings and the original vestments, some of which have survived. During the time of the building of S. Bartholomew the noted artist and designer Eric Gill was working with Caroe; Gill carved the dedication stone, which was laid by Sybell, Countess Grosvenor on Ascension Day 1903.

The fittings of the church tell the story of S. Bartholomew in all its various locations, by the Royal Exchange, in Moor Lane and the S. Alban’s mission. It is a church with an usual history of survival and regeneration, often against the odds. As we look to the future we pray that we will share the same spirit and faithfulness that has lead the parish forward in new ways as in past generations.