Friday, 16 September 2016

The Wards of Old London: Cripplegate Without - Preachers and Printers

Having completed our tour of London's intramural wards, we have also explored the extramural ward of Portsoken. Following the northward and westward course of the Roman and Medieval walls, we should pass next into Bishopsgate Ward Without but, for reasons that will become apparent in the coming weeks, I am passing over this ward for the moment. We also pass over Coleman Street Ward, which we have already visited, since it straddles the intramural/extramural divide. That brings us, then, to Cripplegate Ward Without. Like Cripplegate Ward Within, much of this ward now lies beneath the 1960s concrete of the Barbican Estate, but, squeezed in between the high-walks, remains one of the City's few surviving Medieval churches, spared by the Great Fire of 1666.

Saint Giles Without Cripplegate. Photo: Lonpicman (licensed under GNU).

Saint Giles Without Cripplegate was originally a Saxon church, extensively re-modeled in 1090, 1394, and 1682. Gutted during the Blitz, it rose, once again, from the ashes, and has a lively congregation to this day.

Saint Giles Without Cripplegate. Photo: Lonpicman (licensed under GNU).

The area in which it stands was used for archery practice throughout the Middle Ages. The introduction of firearms in the Sixteenth Century made archery increasingly redundant, and the open land on which Londoners had trained for the fields of Crecy and Agincourt was built over, developing into a neighbourhood of mainly poor quality housing, interspersed with brothels and skittle-alleys. It was another technological innovation that was set to transform the character of the area. With high production volumes, but low profit-margins, many printers established their homes and workshops in affordable Cripplegate. Poor but literate, these free-thinking men and their families were open to the radical ideas then spreading around the continent of Europe.

The Curate of Saint Giles in 1570 was a man named John Field, classified by history as a "Puritan," but who almost certainly considered himself a Presbyterian. Much concerned with the "Popish abuses" of the established Church, he emphasised preaching over "ceremonial" liturgy, and argued for the replacement of the hierarchy of bishops by local elected synods. He was clearly a charismatic preacher, and many local printers and other artisans flocked to his pulpit.

One of Field's successors at Saint Giles, Robert Crowley, was active as a printer as well as a preacher. During the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, he had spent time in exile in Hamburg, where he had come into contact with Calvinist beliefs, at odds with the Lutheran ideas that underpinned the established Church of England (he acknowledged Christ as the Saviour of Mankind, but rejected the doctrine of the Holy Trinity). As a printer, Crowley published the first English book of psalms with harmonised music; and the first translations of the Gospels into Welsh. His fellow exile, John Foxe, returned from Hamburg to write his Book of Martyrs, one of the most influential works of anti-Catholic propaganda.

John Foxe in 1587, National Portrait Gallery (image is in the Public Domain).
Foxe's Book of Martyrs, 1563. Image: Folger Shakespeare Library (licensed under CCA).

In the years leading up to the outbreak of the English Civil War, the pulpit of Saint Giles became a spiritual hub of the Parliamentary and Presbyterian movements. Oliver Cromwell was married in the church in 1620; John Milton was a parishioner, and was buried here in 1674; John Bunyan, another parishioner, may have written The Pilgrim's Progress in a home nearby.

Sweedon's Passage, Grub Street, 1791, by John Thomas Smith (image is in the Public Domain).

With the end of Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth, which Milton and Bunyan had served, the streets around Saint Giles retained both their demotic character, and their association with the printing industry, and Grub Street (later Milton Street) became a centre for early journalism. The men who worked there were frequently derided as "hacks:" Samuel Johnson, who had served his own apprenticeship there, wrote that:

"A news-writer is a man without virtue who writes lies at home for his own profit. To these compositions is required neither genius nor knowledge, neither industry nor sprightliness, but contempt of shame and indifference to truth are absolutely necessary."

The Coffeehous Mob, 1710 (Image is in the Public Domain), men gathering to discuss the news of the day.

Journalists were never above suspicion (many were believed to have taken bribes from Prime Minister Robert Walpole, in return for "massaging" the facts), but from this crucible emerged a number of long-lived publications, including The Spectator and The Gentleman's Magazine.  

The Gentleman's Magazine, 1759. Image: Michael Maggs (licensed under CCA).

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The CheapsideTales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.

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