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places, having previously beheaded the Prior, Sir Robert Hales. “They burnt,” says Stow, “all the houses belonging to St. John's ; and then burnt the fair Priory of the hospital of St. John, causing the same to burn the space of seven days after. At the time, the King being in a turret of the Tower, and seeing the manor of Savoy, the Priory of St. John's Hospital, and other houses on fire, he demanded of his council what was the best to do in that extremity; but none of them could counsel in that case." It is little to be wondered at, that the King's counsellers should have been reluctant in advising the King in this emergency, when we remember the recent fate of Sir Robert Hales. A few days previously, when the assembled rebels at Blackheath had sent to demand a conference with their sovereign, it was the Prior of St. John's who lad most strenuously advised his royal master to hold no converse with such“ bare legged ribalds."
These events occurred in 1381 ; and within a quarter of a century a new priory arose from the ashes of the old, which it appears to have far surpassed in magnificence. It was not, however, till the end of the fifteenth century that the present gateway was built; nor was the church completed till 1504.
The order of St. John of Jerusalem was suppressed by Henry the Eighth, in the thirty-second year of his reign. On the last Prior, Sir William Weston (who died, it is said, of a broken heart on the day
a his order was suppressed), the King conferred a
pension of a thousand a year, and on the knights smaller annuities. The remainder of their large possessions Henry seized for the “augmentation of his crown.” “The priory, church, and house of St. John,” says Stow, “were preserved from spoil or down-pulling so long as King Henry the Eighth reigned ; and were employed as a store-house for the king's toils and tents for hunting, and for the
But in the third of King Edward the Sixth, the church, for the most part—to wit, the body and side-aisles—with the great bell-tower (a most curious piece of workmanship, graven, gilt, and enamelled, to the great beautifying of the city, and passing all other that I have seen), was undermined and blown up with gunpowder. The stone thereof was employed in building of the Lord Protector's house at the Strand."
In the succeeding reign of Queen Mary, au attempt was made to revive the order and to place it on its ancient footing. The choir of the church, and some of the side chapels, which still remained, were repaired by Cardinal Pole, and Sir Thomas Tresham, knight, was appointed Lord Prior. But the glory of the order of St. John had passed away, and on the accession of Queen Elizabeth it was for ever abolished in England.* The priory, which was of great extent, stood on the ground now occupied by
* For å fuller and very interesting account of the Hospital and Knights of St. John, see Knight's “London," vol. ii. p. 133, to which work the author is chiefly indebted for many of the foregoing particulars.
St. John's Square, on the south side of Clerkenwell Green.
On the opposite, or north side, of the Green stood the Benedictine Nunnery of St. Mary, founded about the year 1100, by one Jorden Brisset, as an establishment for Black Nuns of the order of St. Benedict. The first prioress was Christina; the last was Isabella Sackville, niece of Thomas first Earl of Dorset. This convent was dissolved in 1570, and shortly afterwards the church was made parochial, and dedicated to St. James. As late as the days when Pennant wrote, a part of the cloisters of the old convent and also of the nuns' refectory, still remained ; but these interesting relics of the past have been since swept away.
The old conventual church contained many costly and interesting monuments, many of which were unfortunately destroyed during the progress of rebuilding the church. Among these may be mentioned the monuments of Sir William Weston, the last Lord Prior of the order of St. John, and of the last Prioress of St. Mary's, Isabella Sackville ; of Elizabeth Drury, widow of William Cecil, Earl of Exeter; of Elizabeth, wife of Sir Maurice Berkeley, standard-bearer to Henry the Eighth and to Queen Elizabeth ; and of the celebrated antiquary and collector of funeral inscriptions, John Weever, who died in 1634.* The epitaph on Weever's tomb, composed
* The tombs of Prior Weston and of Lady Berkeley are still preserved in the vaults of the church.
by himself, is as quaint as any of those which he delighted to collect. The inscription concludes :
Lancashire gave me breath,
And Cambridge, education ;
And this church my humation ;
Ætatis suæ 56.
The present church was erected between the years 1788 and 1792.
Another eminent person who lies buried in this church is the historian Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury, who died in St. Jolin's Square on the 17th of March, 1714-15. John Langhorne, the poet, was for some time curate and lecturer of St. James's, Clerkenwell.
The neighbouring and uninteresting church of St. John, Clerkenwell, was consecrated on the 27th of December, 1723. The crypt formed a part of the choir of the ancient church of St. John's Priory. It was from the vaults of this church that the famous Cock Lane ghost was presumed to issue in the dead hour of the night.
Clerkenwell derives its name from being in the vicinity of one of those pure and sparkling springs, or wells, of which there were formerly several in the northern suburbs of the metropolis, and at which the parish clerks of London used anciently to perform their mysteries, or sacred dramas. For instance, in the old records we find the convent
church of St. Mary repeatedly styled, Ecclesia Beata Marie, de fonte Clericorum. “ There are about London,” says Fitzstephen,“ on the north of the suburbs choice fountains of water, sweet, wholesome, and clear, streaming forth among the glistening pebble stones. In this number, Holywell, Clerkenwell, and St. Clement's Well, are of most note, and frequented above the rest when scholars and the youth of the city take the air abroad in the summer evenings.” This and other springs in the neigbourhood pursued their murmuring course till they flowed into the Fleet River, which was then a pure and limpid stream, and which, from this circumstance, obtained its name of the “River of Wells."
In the days when Fitzstephen wrote, the Clerk's Well bubbled in the midst of verdant meadows and shady lanes; the richly wooded uplands of Hampstead and Highgate rising behind them. Such was Clerkenwell when, in 1390, the Clerks performed here during three successive days in the presence of Richard the Second, his Queen, and the nobility; and again in 1409, in the reign of Henry the Fourth, when the Creation of the World formed the subject of their drama, and when, in the words of Stow, there flocked “to see the same the most part of the nobles and gentles in England.” Close to Ray Street, Clerkenwell, are some houses which still retain the rural denomination of Coppice Row.
Here, also, may be seen a dilapidated-looking pump, on which an inscription informs us that