Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Savoy Hospital and Chapel

Continuing the story of John of Gaunt's Magnificent lost palace on The Strand

The Savoy Hospital
The Savoy Hospital

Henry VII, the last Lancastrian heir, founded the Savoy Hospital for the poor in 1502, and although he died before construction began, left complicated instructions for its management in his will. King Henry bequeathed 10,000 marks so that 100 poor men could be accommodated every night. At that time ‘hospital’ was more like a hostel for the homeless, the medical aspect was developed in later years as by the 18th Century there was a medical staff. Dedicated to the Blessed Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and St. John the Baptist, it was finally opened in 1512.

King Henry VII

A ‘Master’ governed the running of the house, with four chaplains who exercised the functions of seneschal, sacristan, confessor, and hospitaller. Then two priests, four altarists engaged to assist in the services in the chapel, a clerk of the kitchen, a butler, a cook, an under cook, a door-keeper and an under doorkeeper, a gardener, a matron, and twelve women. The master received a stipend of £30 a year, each of the chaplains £4 and the priests £3 6s. 8d. The uniform of all officials, male and female, was blue with a Tudor rose in red and gold embroidered on the breast.

Every evening an hour before sunset, the hospitaller, the vice-matrons and others stood at the great door and received the poor, who proceeded first to the chapel to pray for the founder, and then to the dormitory, where the matron and some of the women allotted them beds.

Four other women prepared the baths and cleansed their clothing. The hospital only provided a lodging for the night except in the case of the sick, who were allowed to remain and were tended by the doctor and surgeon and the sisters.

William Holgill, the first master, received a larger salary than future master, and in spite of the statute forbidding the acceptance of other offices, he acted as surveyor to Wolsey. The income of the hospital, £567 16s. 3¾d. in 1535. This came from rents of assize in London manors, including Kennington, Shoreditch, Goldbeaters and others.

That these monies were barely sufficient to meet expenses came to light when the price of food rose, Holgill had to draw on the reserve fund, and the commissioners who under Sir Roger Cholmley, visited the hospital in 1551, found the revenues fell short of expenditure by £205 4s. 2d.

The house was dissolved in 1553, and its lands given by the king to Bridewell and St. Thomas's, Southwark, but in 1556 it was endowed afresh by Queen Mary, whose maids of honour provided the beds and other furniture.

This new foundation had been in existence only a few years when it was almost ruined by Thomas Thurland, the master, who was removed in 1570, having burdened the hospital with his private debts by a misuse of the common seal, granted unprofitable leases, taken away the beds, and disposed of jewels and other treasures of the house.

During the Civil War the place was used for the accommodation of sick and wounded soldiers, and the master was superseded by a governor or overseer. At the accession of Charles II, the hospital was restored to its former state, but some of the buildings were taken by the king in 1670 for the use of the men wounded in the Dutch war, and the promise to give them back was not fulfilled either by him or his successors.

In the reign of James II a colony of Jesuits was established in the Savoy under one F. Palmer, as rector. He opened schools which numbered some four hundred pupils, half Catholics and half Protestants; and adjoining the schools was a printing-press. The main rule was that the pupils would be taught, ‘truth, learning and virtue’ free of charge other than buying of their own pens, ink, paper, and books. Both Catholic and Protestant students attended and no master or scholar  was allowed to persuade any student from his own religion.

When King James was deposed in 1688, the schools died out, and William III allowed the families of poor French Huguenots who had escaped France when the Edict of Nantes made Protestantism illegal, to take up residence at The Savoy Hospital. Their presence was objected to as they were allowed to follow their trades, silkmakers, goldsmiths etc outside the London guilds which adversely affected their livlihoods

A commission under William III shows that the hospital had outlived its usefulness, and Lord Keeper Wright removed the chaplains because they had omitted take the oath on appointment and had not lived within the hospital. As no master had been appointed since Dr. Killigrew's death in 1699, the hospital closed in 1702 and in the 19th century the buildings were demolished.

The Savoy Chapel

The Savoy Chapel
Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset and Protector of England during the boy Edward VI's short reign, destroyed the church of Our Lady in the Strand. He promised the parishioners he would build them another on a different site. However the disputes over the royal succession ended with many nobles losing their heads, including Somerset's, and this was forgotten. Until then, the Master of the Savoy offered the hospital church for the use of the parish.

Although it was dedicated to St. John the Baptist, it was given the old name of St. Mary, which it still retains. A new church of St. Mary was afterwards built in the Strand, but the Savoy chapel and its services are still maintained by the Duchy of Lancaster. 

An Anglican church, it is a private chapel of Her Majesty The Queen in right of her Duchy of Lancaster, and not subject to the jurisdiction of a bishop. The Duchy still maintains and fully funds the costs of the chapel, and appoints the chaplain. Although at all services the National Anthem is sung,  the lyrics are amended to say “Long Live Our Noble Duke”

In the 18th century, it was a place where marriages without banns could occur outside usual ecclesiastical law, and was referred to in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited as 'the place where divorced couples got married in those days—a poky little place'

In the 19th Century, the ruined hospital buildings were demolished to allow construction of an approach road to Waterloo Bridge, and the only part to survive was the chapel -  the first church lit by electricity in London (1890). Most of the stained glass windows were destroyed in the London Blitz during World War II.

The Savoy Chapel
One which survives, is a triptych depicting a procession of angelic musicians dedicated to the memory of Richard D'Oyly Carte (who was married at the chapel in 1888) unveiled by Sir Henry Irving in 1902. After their respective deaths, the names of Rupert D'Oyly Carte and Dame Bridget D'Oyly Carte were added.

The Savoy is remembered in the Savoy Hotel and Savoy Theatre which stand on the site. Many nearby streets are also named for the Savoy: Buildings, Court, Hill, Place, Row, Street and Way.  
The Chapel even has it's own Facebook Page -


Kate Bunting said...

Thank you for these two interesting posts. I've often wondered what the connection was between the famous London hotel and theatre and the French region of Savoie.

Anita Davison said...

You're welcome Kate - I always wondered what that statue was over the front of the Savoy, which prompted this research. As you see there was too much for one post - fascinating stuff