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Archives in London and the M25 area

St Bartholomew the Less parish

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0405 SBL
Held at: Barts Health NHS Trust Archives (St Bartholomew's Hospital Archives)
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Full title: St Bartholomew the Less parish
Date(s): 1547-2006
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 2113 items
Name of creator(s): St Bartholomew the Less | City of London
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

Before the Reformation there appear to have been five chapels within St Bartholomew's Hospital, but only one survived the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. In the winter of 1546/7, when the Hospital was re-founded by royal charter, its precinct was established as the Anglican parish of St Bartholomew the Less and one of the medieval chapels became the parish church. The tower and part of the west wall of the church date from the fifteenth century and are the oldest structures which now survive within the Hospital precinct. The original parish boundary followed the line of the boundary of the Hospital in Henry VIII's day. However, since 1954, the parish boundary has extended to include land on which the Hospital has expanded to the south and east.

Bart's is now unique among English hospitals in being a parish in its own right. The parish has its own churchwardens and, since 1958, its own parochial church council, which functions independently of the Hospital authorities. The title of 'Anglican chaplain', found in practically every other hospital in England, does not exist at Bart's. The role is filled by the Vicar of St Bartholomew the Less, who is correctly known as the 'Vicar and Hospitaller'. In the sixteenth century, these were two separate offices: the Vicar of St Bartholomew the Less, who undertook pastoral care of the parishioners, and the Hospitaller to St Bartholomew's Hospital, who looked after the needs of the patients. However, in the time of William Orme, Vicar from 1670 to 1697, the two positions were combined and they have been held jointly by successive clergy down to the present day. In former times there were a number of tenanted houses in the Hospital precinct, but there are now no parishioners except resident Hospital staff, and the incumbent's main responsibility is for the spiritual welfare of the patients within the Hospital.

The medieval church remained largely intact until 1789-1791, when the roof and practically the whole of the interior were demolished and rebuilt to the design of George Dance junior, the Hospital Surveyor. Dance's structure, however, was rapidly attacked by dry rot, and the church was again rebuilt in 1823-1825. The architect of the second rebuilding was Thomas Hardwick and it is chiefly his work that is visible in the church today. Hardwick retained much of Dance's octagonal design for the interior of the church, but reconstructed it using more durable materials, and pulled down all that remained of the medieval building apart from the tower and the west end. Some of the monuments from the old building were preserved and reinstated, including memorials to Robert Balthrope, Queen Elizabeth I's sergeant surgeon (died 1591), and to Anne, wife of Thomas Bodley, founder of the Bodleian Library at Oxford, whose London house stood within the Hospital precinct in the early seventeenth century. A curious feature of the church is the height of the floor, most of which is some seventy-five centimetres above ground level. The reason for this appears to be unknown. Two of the three bells in the tower are medieval, and are very probably as old as the tower itself. The stained glass windows depicting the Virgin and Child with St Luke, St Bartholomew and Rahere, and also the war memorial windows, were designed by Hugh Easton and dedicated in 1951. They replaced Victorian glass destroyed in the Second World War.

In earlier centuries, attendance at church was compulsory for the nursing staff of the Hospital. Patients were also expected to attend every Sunday, unless they were too weak to do so. Regular Sunday and weekday services are held throughout the year, and the church is frequently used by members of staff for weddings, for the baptisms of their children, and for memorial services. The Vicar and Hospitaller works in close co-operation with the chaplains of other denominations and advises and counsels staff and patients, their relatives and other visitors.


Scope and content/abstract:

Comprises: Bequests, Wills and Probate; Church Fabric; Constable and Scavenger; Certificates; Churchwardens; Finance; Images and Press Cuttings; Militia; Parish Appointments; Parish Boundaries; Poor Law; Printed Material; Plans of the Church; Parish Property; Parish Registers; Parish Maintenance; Loose Rate Assessment Papers; Registers of Services and Preachers; Tithes; Vicar and Hospitaller; Vestry.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

See Scope and content.

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

Copying and digitisation services are available for unrestricted material. Researchers should contact the repository in the first instance.

Finding aids:

See 'Detailed catalogue' link above.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

Overseers' book of receipts and payments, 1890-1908, are held by the Guildhall Department of Manuscripts.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Originally compiled by Julie Tancell as part of the RSLP AIM25 project. Updated by Clare Button, Archivist, School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
October 2001; updated July 2020.

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