The Webbs and the Smithfield Gate

During the height of its prosperity, the western end of the priory church formed one edge of Smithfield Market.

(Illustration by Arthur C. Payne; postcard published by Hildesheimer & Co. before 1906)

 

On 25 October 1539, the priory and all its properties were surrendered to Henry VIII: "Know ye that we the aforesaid abbot and convent...have...by this present charter confirmed to our most excellent prince and lord, Lord Henry VIII, by God's grace King of England and France, Defender of the Faith...all our aforesaid monastery and priory of St. Bartholomew and the whole site of our late priory and all our demesnes, manors, churches, chapels, rectories, and vicarages and chantries...and also all and every kind of our church ornaments, jewels and goods"... By the time the political and theological situation had settled down, the priory's properties were owned by Sir Richard Rich; the grant of 1544 records that the building material of the nave and parish chapel had been "utterly taken away." (Quotes taken from Webb's Records, vol. 1, chapter 8, pp. 253 and thereafter)

The external door of the south aisle survived the destruction. It's still standing - it's now known as the Smithfield Gate.

(Artist unknown. The Principal Gate of the Priory of St. Bartholomew, Smithfield. Published 1 January 1793 by N. Smith, No. 18 Great May Buildings, St. Martins Lane, London.)

 

By 1900, the gate was surrounded by commercial buildings and bad tiles. This postcard is dated 18 December 1915.

On 8 September 1915, the Great War rudely intruded into Smithfield Market. A zeppelin raid devasted the market area, and dislodged many of the tiles covering the facade above the Smithfield Gate. The area sustained additional damage on 7 July 1917, when an airplane raid led to substantial fires in the warehouse of Evans & Sons, Lescher & Webb, adjoining the gate (Webb, v 2, pgs. 362 and 443).

The destruction led to the fortuitous discovery of a half-timbered house, built above the arch by Sir Richard Rich during the time of Elizabeth I.

(Uncredited photograph; postcard some time before 1918, no publisher listed)

 

St. Bartholomew's having acquired the gatehouse "property" in 1908 -- returning the medieval property to its original ownership -- Webb was able to restore the north-facing facade of the gate after the war ended. The gatehouse was restored in 1916, returning the rooms to a habitable state.

(Uncredited photographer; postcard published by Stereoscopic some time before 1928)

Unfortunately Philip was killed in action during World War I (1916) - his father dedicated the statue of St. Bartholomew now located in the Smithfield Gate to his son after Philip's death. The wood for this statue was reclaimed from timbers removed during the restoration. It was carved by W.S. Frith.

The ground-level crucifix marks a memorial to local lads killed during World War I.

 

Casualties of the Great War - notice entry for Philip E. Webb, Sir Aston Webb's son.

A later casualty, and presumed relative of Canon Sidney Savage, rector of St. Bartholomew's during most of the modern restoration.

 


 

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Photographs and text copyright Tina Bird 2003-2008

Last modified: 4 Sept 2008