The Final Years of Old St. Paul’s

London’s skyline would be incomplete without the familiar dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The present cathedral, built by Sir Christopher Wren between 1675 and 1710, is at least the fifth cathedral to have been built on the site at Ludgate Hill, the first of which was built, according to Bede, in 604. Wren’s cathedral is considered a masterpiece of the English Baroque style, however, were it not for the Great Fire of London in 1666, a very different cathedral would be seen today and a different architect would be remembered for saving a deteriorating building from total collapse.

Construction of Old St. Paul’s began in 1087 after its Saxon predecessor was destroyed by fire. By 1314, the original Romanesque building constructed by the Normans had developed into one of Europe’s largest and most celebrated Gothic cathedrals. However, Old St. Paul’s saw a rapid decline during the 16th century, in no small part due to the Dissolution of the Monasteries which led to the destruction of many interior features and the confiscation of cathedral buildings located in the close. Further disaster struck in 1561 when the central spire caught fire due to lightning and collapsed in on itself bringing down the roof of the nave with it. Both Catholics and Protestants saw the destruction of the spire as proof of God’s displeasure at the other party’s actions. During a period of heightening religious tensions, Elizabeth I contributed money towards the repair of the nave. However, the work was substandard and within fifty years Old St Paul’s fell into disrepair once again.

Concerned by this rapid deterioration, James I appointed Inigo Jones to oversee the reconstruction of Old St. Paul’s. Unlike the traditional master craftsmen of yesteryear, Jones was the first person to fully break with the traditional approach to building design and is recognised as England’s first significant architect. In addition to the reconstruction of many of the Gothic features of Old St. Paul’s, Jones stamped his own identity on the building with the inclusion of several classical elements. He drew inspiration from his trips to Italy and led the revival of classical designs from Rome and the Italian Renaissance in Britain. This influence can clearly be seen in the image below, ‘The West Prospect of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul’, which has been taken from Daniel King’s The Cathedrall and Conventuall Churches of England and Wales (1656), (LPL, H5194.K5).

The West Prospect of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul

It has been suggested that Jones’ heavy-handed restoration of Old St. Paul’s had a very obvious court connection. After his initial appointment by James I, Jones continued to work on Old St. Paul’s under the patronage of Charles I. Charles’ wife, the queen consort Henrietta Maria, was a particular admirer of Jones. The Queen’s House in Greenwich, initially commissioned by Anne of Denmark, the queen of James I, was eventually completed by Jones for Henrietta Maria. She even bestowed the title of ‘Surveyor of Her Majesty’s Works’ on Jones, a wholly unofficial post, probably created by the queen herself.

Another of Jones’ patrons was the then Bishop of London and future Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, who saw the restoration of Old St. Paul’s as an essential element in his programme of wider church reform. A key supporter of Charles I, Laud promoted a theology of High Church Anglicanism within the Church of England known as Laudianism which put an emphasis on liturgical ceremony, clerical hierarchy and the rejection of ideas such as predestination favoured by Calvinists.

Both Charles I and Laud would finance Jones’ restoration of Old St. Pauls, however, the king decided that he alone would pay for the construction of the classically designed West Front. Accounts, such as the one included below, give us a fairly accurate idea of how funds were distributed. In this particular example, (LPL, FP 43: October 1639-September 1640), we see Jones’ own signature as he approves payment to a certain William Decritts for his frieze paintings.

Portion of the accounts for the construction of the West Front (LPL, FP 43: October 1639-September 1640)

The West Front was a grandiose but ultimately inappropriate statement which was strewn with statues of James I and Charles I. Despite being greatly admired by Wren, it was understandably less well received by Puritans and Presbyterians. Jones’ work on Old St. Paul’s would ultimately cease due to the advent of Civil War, during which time, the cathedral suffered greatly at the hands of Parliamentarian troops. Religious icons were defaced, and the nave became a stable for Roundhead cavalry horses. Old St. Paul’s continued to deteriorate under the governance of the Commonwealth. Building materials were plundered in order to construct the Lord Protector’s city palace and the cathedral was largely neglected due its monarchical and High Anglican symbolism.

By the time of the Restoration in 1660, Old St Paul’s was once again in a state of serious dilapidation. Charles II, newly restored to the throne, appointed Wren as ‘Surveyor to the King’s Works’. Wren initially suggested that Old St. Paul’s should be demolished and an entirely new cathedral be built, however, with public opinion against him, he instead began planning designs which would complement Jones’ previous restorations. Even at this stage, several years prior to the Great Fire, Wren was already drafting plans for a domed tower.

Before Wren could apply any of his designs, the Great Fire of London would first devastate the city, reducing Old St. Paul’s to a smouldering husk. At first, it was suggested that the shell of the building might be salvageable, however, Wren, possibly sensing his chance to totally redesign the cathedral in his own English Baroque style, stated that it would be impossible to reconstruct Old St. Paul’s as it was. With the support of William Sancroft, the Dean of St. Paul’s and future Archbishop of Canterbury, Wren set about demolishing the remnants of Old St. Paul’s in 1668. The clean-up process was surprising arduous, as molten lead from the roof had encased sections of the wall making them difficult to dismantle. Gunpowder was even utilised in an attempt to blast sections of lead encased wall apart, however, after several workmen were killed, Wren opted for a giant battering ram instead. By 1675, all traces of Old St. Paul’s were finally gone and Wren could begin work on the St. Paul’s that we see today.

Saved from the fire: the letters of Archbishop William Sancroft (1617-1693)

William Sancroft (he sometimes spelled his name Sandcroft), was nominated as Archbishop of Canterbury by Charles II in 1677 and duly took office the following year. But he was removed in 1690 for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to William III and Mary II, based on his wish not to violate the oath of allegiance he had sworn to James II six years earlier. Sancroft was succeeded by Archbishop John Tillotson, and he spent his last years in relative seclusion in the village of Fressingfield in Suffolk where he had been born, and where he died in 1693.

Lambeth Palace portrait of Archbishop Sancroft

In 1991 the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library helped the Library to purchase 37 letters written by Sancroft to his friend William Lloyd, Bishop of Norwich at the time of his ejection. They are lively and humorous, and they make clear his unwillingness to leave. Several times Sancroft says “throw this letter into ye fire having read it”. I can however report that the Library stores the letters in an archive storage room with appropriate temperature and humidity controls and fire prevention measures.

Letter from Archbishop Sancroft to Bishop Lloyd, ref: MS 3894, f.11

Sancroft had a thirst for knowledge of many kinds throughout his life, and had a love of books. He had spent much of the Commonwealth period in exile, including time in Italy when he had taken the opportunity to purchase books on art and architecture. He was consequently devoted to the Library, and spent considerable time arranging and cataloguing its manuscripts. He intended to leave his collections to the Library, but his deprivation brought a change of heart, and his books were crated up during his final days. He gave his library of 6000 volumes to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, which he had attended and where he had later served as Master. Much of his collection of manuscripts was purchased from Sancroft’s nephew by Dr Thomas Tanner, Bishop of St Asaph, who in turn bequeathed them to the Bodleian Library in Oxford

The Lambeth Palace Garden in the Archives

Whilst it would be misguided in 2020 to talk of the joys of spring, given the sad impact of the coronavirus, the time of year is nevertheless traditionally an exciting one for the Lambeth Palace garden. The garden is a unique green space in the heart of London with a long and interesting history documented within the Library’s collections.

The garden at Lambeth Palace
The Lambeth Palace garden, with Lambeth Palace in the background

The garden is one of the largest private gardens in London, and has a good claim to being the oldest continuously cultivated garden in the city. The earliest court roll for the archiepiscopal manor of Lambeth from 1236/7 (Reference: ED 1193) refers to the “…garden and orchards, with pears and other fruit sold at the garden gate, a ‘New herbarium’ with turfs coming from archbishop’s lands at Norwood, flax and hemp sown in gardens and a ‘great ditch’ surrounding the whole site”. An account roll from the time of Archbishop Reynolds in 1322 (Ref: ED 545) refers to the wall around the ‘great garden’ being newly built and thatched with reeds and a rabbit garden nearby. The roll lists various seeds which were bought and their cost, and provides an introduction to the garden’s staffing. Gardener Roger had a labourer for eight days to dig the garden, a boy to help dig out flowering plants for three days at 1d per day, and a spade which was worth 6d.

Early map of London
Printed map of London coloured by hand, taken from a copy of Georgius Braun and Franz Hogenberg, ‘Civitates orbis terrarum’, (LPL, MS 3392)

The Library’s earliest pictorial representation of the garden is a hand coloured print of London from 1560 by Georgius Braun and Franz Hogenberg (MS 3392) which probably shows the garden as it was laid out in the time of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. The household ordinances of Archbishop Matthew Parker (MS 1072), give a detailed description of the gardener’s duties in the 16th century, including keeping the grass ‘lowe with the sythe’, and that he ‘delve and manure the grounds to the best comodity of the owner’.

Plan of garden
An exact Plann and Description of Lambeth Pallace with the Courtyards, Gardens, Orchard, Woodyard, Parke, and Walkes Lying and being within the County of Surry Parcell of the Possessions of Thomas Scott Esq. and Mr. Matthew Hardy (LPL, TD 216)

The first detailed plan of the garden dates from the Civil War period (TD 216), when in 1648 commissioners were appointed by Chancery to carry out a survey with a view to the sale of much of the site. The plan is accompanied by a survey giving the size, value and character of the land, which includes the garden (COMM XIIa/23, f.62). The household accounts of Archbishop William Sancroft tell us how much the gardener was paid in 1679 (TG 1, f.63) and a bill in Archbishop John Potter’s accounts for 1736 illustrates the variety of seeds which were bought (TG 5, f.10). By the mid-18th century the number of plans of the garden grows. For example the landscaping work which took place under Archbishop John Moore between 1783-4 is reflected in plans from before (TD 217) and after (TD 218). The granting of a large part of the garden on a lease to London County Council in 1900 by Archbishop Frederick Temple is recorded in the collections in reasonable detail.

Plan of the palace gardens and adjoining land
Lambeth Palace, plan of the gardens and lands adjoining the palace. (LPL TD217)

Plan of the Palace and gardens
Lambeth Palace, plan of the palace and gardens as intended (LPL TD 218)

The 19th and 20th centuries have seen the involvement of several Archbishops’ wives in garden renovations. A print of 1883 (Print 034/075) conveys a sense of the landscaping and planting work carried out by Mary Howley, wife of Archbishop William, in the 1830s. Archbishop Randall Davidson’s wife Edith was responsible for the planting of yellow antirrhinum, scarlet salvias, heliotrope and verbenas.

Print depicting the gardens at the end of the 19th century
The Gardens of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Palace (LPL, Prints 034/075)

Rosamund Fisher wrote a diary which she donated to the Library (MS 1726, ff. 64-78), and which provides valuable insights into the garden soon after the end of World War Two: “when we arrived the garden was still occupied by an RAF balloon and its crew… Wright, the gardener, had inadequate help, but did wonders in restocking the herbaceous borders and the kitchen garden. Seeds cost little and we made successful experiments with many plants hitherto supposed not to grow in Lambeth soil”. The tradition of wives working on garden renovations has continued into the recent past, with Rosalind Runcie leading a project to restore the garden in preparation for the 1988 Lambeth Conference, and further work taking place under Eileen Carey.

Further reading

For further detail on the history of the Lambeth Palace garden see:
Watton, M (2017). ‘Seven Hundred Years since a Spade Cost Sixpence, Records of the Lambeth Palace Garden’, Archives, LII (135), 3-15.

The Fire of London

At the 350th anniversary of the Fire of London, which began on 2 September 1666, this blog post highlights sources in the Library which shed light on this event and its aftermath, including a sermon preached soon after the Fire by William Sancroft, then Dean of St Paul’s (and later Archbishop of Canterbury).

H5133 920.08TP
Printed book H5133 920.08

The printed book collection also includes a Book of Common Prayer (this edition dating from 1681) which contains these ‘Forms of Prayer to be used yearly on the second of September, for the dreadful Fire of London’.


H5145.A4 1681fBbb
Printed book H5145.A4 1681


The papers of Archbishop Sheldon (volume 1 ff 25-27) include an Order of the King in Council dated 7 November 1666 requiring him to ascertain through the bishops in the Province of Canterbury the sums collected in each parish for the relief of those who have suffered distress in the Fire of London, and to make arrangements for the funds to be sent to the Lord Mayor of London.

Records in the Library also document the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral. MS 670 is an account of income and expenditure covering from 1666 to 1700. MS 2872 folios 44-49 comprise papers of the Commissioners for Rebuilding St. Paul’s Cathedral dating from 1674-5, among them an order approving the new design and requiring them to proceed with the work ‘beginning wth ye East End, or Chore’, that the Surveyor with his assistants and officers should immediately set out the ground and lay the foundations ‘of so much of yt Designe as lies East of ye Cupola, or Tower, & pursue ye work with all Diligence so long as the Season of ye year shall permitt’. The signatories include Sir Christopher Wren.

MS 2872 f 46r

Among records relating to Doctors’ Commons, the association of ecclesiastical lawyers situated near St Paul’s Cathedral, there is a list (MS 2080 f 56) of those contributing to the reconstruction of their premises after the Fire. The story is further explored in E A Pickard and E Jeffries Davis, ‘The Rebuilding of Doctors’ Commons, 1666-72′, London Topographical Record (1931), xv, 51-77. This later print (dating from 1808), a recent gift from the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library, shows the interior as rebuilt.

Print 027/20


Some records relate to the effects of the Fire on specific institutions situated within the City. The records of the library of Sion College (Sion L40.2/E58) include catalogues of the printed books and manuscripts saved from the destruction of the College in the Fire and carried to safety at the Charterhouse. They are in the hand of John Spencer, the Librarian. The shelf marks of the printed books differ from the Library’s earlier shelf marks and represent a new post-Fire arrangement of the collection.

Aside from the physical damage caused by the Fire, the records document its consequences for ecclesiastical administration in the City of London. MS 1701 comprises a set of tithe assessments, assessing certain London parishes for a rate in lieu of tithes, made according to the provisions of the Act of Parliament (22 and 23 Chas. II cap. 15) for settling the maintenance of clergy in parishes burnt in the Fire.

One piece of evidence is an absence rather than a presence. The Library holds the records of the Court of Arches, the court of appeal for the Province of Canterbury, which was medieval in origin: but few of its earliest records survive, being destroyed when the Fire ravaged the church of St Mary-le-Bow where the Court sat, and so the surviving archive predominantly dates from after 1666.

Library Records Project 2

The project to produce new online descriptions of the early catalogues of Lambeth Palace Library 1610-1785, together with a guide to the catalogues, shelf marks and other physical evidence of the collection, funded by the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library, has continued to make good progress.

Attention has been focused on the restoration of the Library by Archbishop Sheldon in 1664 and the catalogues of the Library (7 volumes) which he commissioned. A new description was also made of LR/F/11, which includes a set of book lists now identified as the packing lists of Sheldon’s personal collection when he moved to London in 1660. A further discovery was the presence in many of Sheldon’s books of shelfmarks reflecting their arrangement while he was Bishop of London (1660-3). The project also brought to light a Sheldon book with his crest, surrounded by a wreath, on the binding (the sole example of this stamp which has come to light at Lambeth), and also two Sheldon books with an engraving by Hollar of his arms as Bishop of London, both hand coloured. These are bookplate-size but appear to have been used only rarely, as frontispieces or embellishments.

The project has also covered the reorganisation of the Library by Archishop Sancroft between 1677 and his ejection from Lambeth in 1691. Sancroft rearranged the manuscripts and produced a new catalogue in his own hand. In addition he rearranged the printed books. Amongst the volumes catalogued, a shelf list made by Paul Colomies in 1684 (LR/F/10) has special importance for understanding the collection, especially as it includes an audit of the Library carried out by Sancroft’s chaplains at the time of his ejection in June 1691.

Shelf list by Paul Colomiès, 1684 (LR/F/10 f 26)
Shelf list by Paul Colomiès, 1684 (LR/F/10 f 26)

In all seven catalogues produced during Sancroft’s primacy were described. Three were identified as attempts at an author catalogue of the Library, a project which appears to have remained incomplete. A new description was also made of the catalogue of the Lambeth manuscripts compiled by Henry Wharton in 1688 (MS 580).

Work was also begun on the catalogues produced during the primacy of Archbishop Tenison, 1694-1715, another significant period in the history of the Library.