St James Clerkenwell Monuments

St James Clerkenwell stands on the site of the ancient Benedictine Nunnery of St Mary. The Gentleman’s Magazine for 1787 includes a letter noting the demise of the ancient Church: ‘That ancient fabric, the parish church of St James, Clerkenwell, being in so ruinous a condition that it will probably shortly be taken down, when the many venerable remnants of antiquity now in that dilapidated monastery will in all likelihood be for ever lost.’ Of interest here, the letter also noted a few monuments, including to one a Charles Sibbald, d.1645, a plain stone monument to Elizabeth Barkley, with an effigy, the monument to Sir William Weston, and his lead coffin, containing a skeleton with ‘a quantity of a dark-coloured mucilaginous substance between the thighs and lower parts of the body of an unctuous feel, but quite inodorous’.

The current Church of St James Clerkenwell was put up by the rather less well known architect James Carr after 1788, following a report to the House of Commons in 1787, where Mr Carr was a chief witness that the structure of the old Church was unsafe and it would need rebuilding. It is of brick and Portland stone, with the chief feature being the square-sided stone tower with a steeple. But this does not date from the 1788 rebuilding, but is a reproduction by W. P. Griffith in the middle of the 19th Century.

St James Clerkenwell, view of interior and a corner with monuments.

Inside, the Church is rectangular, tall, and bright, with its arched windows, galleries and walls in white, and delicate duck-egg blue ceiling with plasterwork. The various monuments we have come to see are displayed around the walls on the ground floor. Apparently there survives in the crypt an effigy of a woman thought to be Elizabeth Berkeley, d.1585, much defaced. Nor did I see the effigy in a shroud of Sir William Weston, Prior of St John’s, d.1540. So we start with the still grand monument to Elizabeth Drury, of the mid-19th Century, and proceed in date order from there:

17th Century Monuments:

Monument to William Wood, d.1691, archer extraordinaire.

18th Century Monuments:

There are half a dozen, four from early in the Century, and two from the end.

19th Century Monuments:

We have a fair range of early and Victorian panels, including the ubiquitous white-panel-on-black monuments, which as simply formed Classical pieces with a minimum of carved work, are found the length and breadth of the land. They include a few pieces signed by the mason-sculptors who made them.

20th Century Monument:

William Robson tablet with mosaic border, 1906.

Also in the Church:

Stained glass in St James Clerkenwell.

With many thanks to the Church authorities for permission to show pictures of the monuments inside; their website is http://www.jc-church.org/welcome/.

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