Bridewell Precinct

Another in the series on historic churches in the City of London …

By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of  the City. To be precise, according to  Parish Clerks’ records, there were 97 churches within the walls of the City, and 16 without, making a total of 113. 

According to the antiquarian John Stow, writing in his “Survey of London” of 1598, “King Henry VIII. built … [in the area known as the Bridewell] … a stately and beautiful house of new, for the receipt of the Emperor Charles V., who, in the year of Christ 1522, was lodged himself at the Blackfriars [on the opposite, eastern, side of the River Fleet], … a gallery being made out of the house over the water [of the Fleet], … into the emperor’s lodging”.

Later, in 1529, Henry VIII again stayed in Bridewell Palace, as it had come to be known, and the Papal Legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, in the Blackfriars. This was on the occasion of the Legatine Court in the Parliament Hall in the Blackfriars, convened to address the King’s “Great Matter”, his proposed annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (which would enable him to marry Anne Boleyn). The Court ruled out the proposal. The rest is history.

When Henry VIII died in 1547, the Palace passed to his son Edward VI, and when Edward died in 1553, he gave it to the Mayor, George Baron, “for the commonalty and citizens, to be a workhouse for the poor and idle persons of the city”, as Stow put it. According to “The London Encyclopaedia“, the former palace was also used “for the reception of vagrants and homeless children and for the punishment of petty offenders and disorderly women”. There are records, too, of a hospital in the precinct as well as the workhouse and prison building, and later of a school. And there would undoubtedly have been some form of place of worship. The Parish Clerks included “Bridewell Precinct” in their register of deaths (the “Bills of Mortality”).

The Bridewell Prison in 1720 (from John Strype’s revised edition of Stow’s “Survey … “)

The Bridewell was burned down in Great Fire of 1666, and subsequently rebuilt in 1667. It went on to be demolished between 1864-71. 

The new building on the old site of Bridewell Palace
Entrance to new building
Bust of Edward VI
Commemorative Plaque

The new building on the old site  bears  a commemorative plaque. 

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