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The Cultural Geography of St Paul’s Precinct

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter is a cultural study of St Paul’s Cathedral precinct in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. It discusses the physical properties of Paul’s, including the nave, Paul’s Cross pulpit, the bookshops in the churchyard, and the many and varied uses and occupations of the precinct and church, including sermons, secular business practices, and criminal activity. While recent scholarship has attended to various discreet spaces in and around the cathedral, this chapter discusses the religious and secular space and activities as mutually constitutive rather than distinct. Influenced by studies of cultural geography, the chapter investigates the role of the cathedral precinct in constructing the identity of the early modern Londoner through a discussion of the effects that geographical space has on human behaviour.

Keywords: books, business, church, crime, cultural geography, London, religious, secular, sermons, St Paul’s Cathedral

The church most of us know as St Paul’s Cathedral is Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, completed in 1710, after the great fire of London destroyed the previous church in 1666.* While there had been a church located on Ludgate Hill, London’s highest point, from the seventh century, the building that early sixteenth-century Londoners called St Paul’s was a grand Norman cathedral, completed in the early fourteenth century, with a spire reaching 498 feet, taller than the top of Wren’s dome. In 1561, the spire was struck by lightning and burned down, never to be replaced.1 The church itself was massive, approximately 585 feet long and 100 feet wide across the transept; only Winchester Cathedral was larger. The nave of St Paul’s was 300 feet long and had twelve bays, a vaulted ceiling, and a triforium. A great iron screen divided the nave from the choir, which was nearly as long as the nave. The choir contained three chapels: Lady Chapel in the middle, St George’s at the north end, and St Dunstan’s at the south. The cathedral and the surrounding precinct were enclosed by a wall that had six gates. The precinct itself took up twelve and a half acres and included several other structures for official church use: residences for the dean and chapter, the chapter house, the Bishop of London’s palace, and Paul’s Cross pulpit among them. In addition, two parish churches were located in the precinct: St Gregory’s, adjacent to the south-west exterior wall of the nave, and St Faith’s, which was located inside the cathedral itself, underneath the choir and next to the Jesus Chapel. St Gregory’s was the most populous parish near Paul’s (p. 634) and was known for the particular occupations of the parishioners: mercers, stationers, spurriers, lawyers, and ecclesiastical dignitaries.2 St Faith’s was accessible through the exterior of the cathedral. The crypts below the choir were known as the ‘crowds’ or ‘shrouds’ and it is possibly there that the Paul’s Cross sermons were held in inclement weather.

It is no surprise that a cathedral as large and central as St Paul’s would have so many structures devoted to the functioning of the church, and Paul’s follows the architectural model, both in spatial orientation and types of religious structures, of many medieval cathedrals in western Europe. However, Paul’s precinct contained a large number of buildings for secular or semi-secular use. Among those were Stationers’ Hall, Paul’s grammar school, the publishers’ bookshops, a number of other commercial shops, several inns, ordinaries, and private residences and tenements for approximately 300 laypeople.3 These shops and tenements, some two stories tall, were built all along the churchyard walls or pressed up along the exterior wall of the cathedral between the church buttresses. In the late sixteenth century, many buildings that had at one point been used for church business were leased to shopkeepers and residents, including Stationers Hall, which previously housed St Peter’s College.

But Londoners in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries knew that St Paul’s was much more than the sum of its parts. Rather ‘Paul’s’ was shorthand for the central London area in and around the church. It was comprised of specific locales, but had cultural meanings beyond the associations with any particular building or space. For those attending services at St Gregory’s or St Faith’s, Paul’s represented a community parish, much like the scores of others around London. For those listening to a sermon at the Cross, witnessing an execution in the yard, or observing a pageant to commemorate the new Lord Mayor, Paul’s took on significance as a site for church, royal, or civic power (and sometimes all three at once). For those who were there to cut purses or employ the services of a lawyer, Paul’s was a city centre, a busy and useful congregation of bodies where urban economies played out. For the Bishop of London, the dean, chapter, and clergy, Paul’s was London’s holy house symbolizing Anglican worship and quotidian liturgical life. For those who were at Paul’s to attend grammar school or a play or to buy books, it was a progressive site of learning and entertainment. The precinct’s great geographical area and centrality in the city, the cathedral’s physical dominance of the landscape and skyline, and the multitude of activities around which social and religious London life centred rendered it a place with which virtually all Londoners, and many strangers, would have had frequent (p. 635) contact. It was a neighbourhood like no other, and yet it was so integrated into London that its unique properties were a natural and important part of the city.

While several recent scholars of this period—historians and literary critics alike—have attended to various discrete spaces in and around the precinct, especially Paul’s Cross and the cathedral nave, here I discuss the ways that the spaces of the cathedral and their uses overlap and inform one another.4 In particular, I argue that the cathedral’s religious and secular space and activities must be seen as mutually constitutive rather than distinct, as when the sermons at Paul’s Cross relied on the profane behaviours of Londoners for their subjects. Further, I understand space to be much more than a neutral setting in which humans conduct their lives. Rather, I see the role of the cathedral precinct in constructing the identity of the early modern Londoner through a discussion of the effects that geographical space has on human activity and subjectivity. The architectural features of the churchyard and the cathedral guided the ways that people moved through the space in and around them. The placement of bookshops in the yard, for example, prescribed the location where individuals purchased texts while the great size and location of the pillars within the nave directed the way that people navigated that location. But these very features, which may seem to impose limits on human activity, also engendered an urban subject whose use of space afforded agency. The orientation of the bookshops allowed for the pleasure of the sociable browser, prefiguring Baudelaire’s flâneur, while the nave’s pillars provided employment possibilities for serving men who gathered at particular posts, known to employers, in hopes of finding work. St Paul’s Cathedral precinct and its architectural features, then, were crucial in shaping the multiple sensibilities—religious, civic, social, economic—of early modern Londoners.

Paul’s Cross and the Activities of the Churchyard

The Paul’s Cross sermons were a focal point of religious life in early modern London. Built in the mid-fifteenth century in the north-east quadrant of the churchyard, Paul’s Cross was a large wooden octagonal structure set atop stone steps, covered by a lead-lined canopy and with a surrounding wall.5 Up another small set of stairs, the pulpit (p. 636) itself was within the structure on one side of the octagon facing out to the churchyard, thus orienting the auditory. The preachers invited by the Bishop of London to speak at the prestigious pulpit were among the most noted in England. The audience for the sermons included the Lord Mayor and London’s aldermen and their families and the regular congregants were likely more highly educated than those at most parish churches.6 The clergymen of the cathedral were encouraged to attend the sermons; in records from the 1584 bishop’s visit, the church governance is urged to conclude morning services by 10:00 a.m. so that people could attend the sermons at the Cross.7 However, the sermons, which were preached every Sunday year-round, drew huge crowds—possibly as many as 6,000 people—and occasional auditors likely represented a cross section of London more broadly. Paul’s Cross preachers occasionally directed their sermons at the people who haunted the precinct; several sermons complain about unruly congregants and the subjects of the sermons themselves sometimes addressed the types of questionable behaviour they may have exhibited.8 As William Procter reveals in the dedication letter to the printed version of a sermon preached at Paul’s, ‘this Sermon doth particularly ayme at the place and persons, where it was delivered.’9 In a sermon published as Love’s Complaint (1609), for example, William Holbrooke claims that the city aldermen, many of whom would have been in attendance, are enticed by the young gallants of the day, who with their ‘impudent tricks’ go to ‘the Taylor or Mercer’ to swindle more ‘suites’ from them.10 These sermons often took the shape of the Jeremiad to emphasize the notion that these sins would bring ruin on London at large.11

The ecclesiastic court, which sat inside the cathedral, took advantage of the large crowds gathered at Paul’s Cross to compel individuals to perform public penance for a variety of offenses, including sexual misconduct, slander, and heresy. Those required to perform penance at Paul’s Cross usually were commanded to do so by the Court of (p. 637) High Commission, which dealt with particularly scandalous cases, since most offenders would normally be punished at their own parish church.12 In one case familiar to students of early modern literature, Mary Frith (known as the inspiration for Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker’s The Roaring Girl) was forced to do penance at Paul’s Cross as part of her punishment for wearing men’s clothing in Paul’s walk on Christmas night, 1611.13 Similar to the way in which the behaviour of the crowd could disrupt or shape the sermon’s message, Frith seems to have stolen the show. According to a letter written by John Chamberlain, ‘she wept bitterly and seemed very penitent, but it is since doubted she was maudlin drunk, being discovered to have tippled of three-quarters of sack’.14 In addition to sermons and displays of public penance, the area around the cross was used as a stage for the burning of ‘heretical’ books. In the late 1520s and early 1530s copies of Tyndale’s Bible were set ablaze at Paul’s Cross. The practice of burning books publicly at Paul’s Cross continued into the Jacobean period as well.15

While the activity at Paul’s Cross was primarily or at least nominally related to church business, or presumably sanctioned by the church, the public locale of the Cross in central London was the reason these activities were situated there. Early modern authorities, both ecclesiastical and those associated with the crown, understood that large crowds were drawn to spectacle, that Paul’s churchyard had enough other activities going on to furnish a ready-made crowd on any given day, and that the focal point of the raised pulpit was the stage upon which the action effectively could take place. In this way, architectural features and their position in space not only inform human behaviour, but also prescribe how social interactions occur. In an enormous churchyard space, Paul’s Cross pulpit served as a locus for organizing political, social, and religious activity in the public sphere. But it also seems to have served the insatiable hunger for cheap entertainment that proliferated elsewhere in the churchyard and city at large. Frith’s ‘performance’, like the spectacle of burning books, and the often fiery sermons on the ‘stage’ of Paul’s Cross was simultaneously akin to and in competition with other of London’s theatrical spaces.16

Many major city and national spectacles included Paul’s churchyard on their route, including Lord Mayor’s Day, which commemorated the newly elected City official. Paul’s also figured prominently in coronation ceremonies, as the clergy would greet the new monarch in the churchyard before he or she proceeded to Westminster the following (p. 638) day for the actual coronation. Towards the end of a procession filled with spectacular and expensive allegorical devices and tableaux, during her coronation procession, Elizabeth was met in the yard by a child from the grammar school who recited a Latin oration and verses,17 emphasizing the solemn function of Paul’s, but also the important role children played. As Lawrence Manley asserts, Paul’s was ‘the ceremonial heart of the metropolis’.18 The displays of civic or royal authority necessarily had to include Paul’s. It was the seat of the bishop and, for thousands of Londoners, the most obvious locus for witnessing the spectacle of power. But the churchyard was also central London’s largest open space and could accommodate thousands of people, who would be better able to witness the staged devices of these processionals. The religious and civic were not immune to the spatially practical.

Part of the churchyard was also a crowded graveyard, and a regular site for burials.19 Members of clergy and civic elite groups would have been buried in the Pardon Churchyard, or inside the cathedral. The majority of parishioners, however, were buried in the churchyard and would have been drawn from St Faith’s and St Gregory’s and from parishes nearby, some of which had no burial space of their own. In 1582, the Lord Mayor asked the Privy Council to forbid parishes with their own churchyards from burying their dead in Paul’s; the burial grounds of the churchyard had become too crowded and ‘so shallow, that scarcely any graves could be made without corpses being laid open’.20 Despite this macabre image and the unsettling notion of the burial grounds amidst the hustle and bustle of the other churchyard activities, as Vanessa Harding asserts, ‘death played a particularly significant role in early modern urban societies’.21 In the city, and particularly in Paul’s churchyard, the dead shared space with the living and the burial grounds were one among many of the churchyard locations where crowding was a fact of existence. For the dead, churchyard burial announced a belonging to a spiritual and civic community. For the living, the burial grounds must have served as a constant reminder of mortality. The spectacle of death was all around. Temporary scaffolds were erected outside the west door, one of several sites in London where one could witness a public execution. In 1606, four of those involved with the Gunpowder Plot were famously executed in the churchyard,22 reminding us of how the space around Paul’s was used (p. 639) for state activities and displays of power. To be sure, the burials in the churchyard—in consecrated ground—link the dead with Christian spiritual life. But being buried cost money. To afford burial within the church was a signal of social prestige and both sorts of burial certainly served as a source of church revenue.

The commercial function of burials points us to the ways that St Paul’s was an economic centre as much as a religious one. Many went to Paul’s churchyard, the most prominent site in all of England for publishers and printers to set up shop. Along the precinct walls and in the areas between the buttresses of the cathedral, permanent structures used as book shops were built. The ground floor of the building would have a fore-room with shelves and tables for displaying books. The other rooms might have been used as a residence or for storing the inventory. The book stall was a less permanent structure protruding out from the front of the shop, consisting of the side stall-boards and a sloping ‘roof’, both of which were hinged so that they could be folded against the wall at the end of the day.23 This was the space that the book buyer would encounter initially. In addition to the physical structures, the bookshops would have been known by the material that they sold. In any of the bookshops, the title pages of texts would have been used as advertisements, as extras were printed to paste up on the posts or walls of the stall or displayed on the shop’s exterior counter in plain view of the customer.24 As Thomas Campion describes in his Observations in the Art of English Poesie (1602), his book is bound for ‘Paul’s Churchyard’, ‘[w]‌ith one leafe like a riders cloke put up/To catch a Termer’.25 Ben Jonson, indignant at the thought of his book being promoted in such a vulgar fashion, referred to advertising techniques as ‘vile arts’ and expresses that only those who truly were looking for his book should buy it.26 In a prefatory poem to his Works, he urges the bookseller to let his text ‘lie upon thy stall till it be sought’ rather than advertising it with its ‘title leaf on posts or walls’.27

(p. 640) The browsing of posted title pages was an important activity of the Paul’s yard shopper as these texts were one of the earliest forms of print advertising. The number of shops in the churchyard would have allowed for browsing and the customer not quite sure of where to look for his or her choice in book could meander from shop to shop.28 While most booksellers were located in the same general area, there were other kinds of shops nearby as well. In The Gull’s Hornbook, a send-up of the early modern conduct manual, Thomas Dekker instructs his gallant to depart the nave, where he has been loitering, and ‘make yourself away either in some of the sempsters’ shops, the new tobacco office or amongst the booksellers where, if you cannot read, exercise your smoke and enquire who has writ against “this divine weed,” etc.’29 His instructions to leave the church after ‘four turns’ and ‘make [him]self away’ among the bookstalls suggests that, for the idle gallant, browsing for books and other items is merely an extension of loitering in the nave. The act of browsing was a special kind of consumerism unique to the urban experience, and a prevalent practice of the churchyard, as it was only in a space with a large concentration of shops that such an activity could take place. Dekker ironically addresses his text to the ‘gull’ who ‘can neither write nor read’, which would have resonated for those who believed that the browsers of Paul’s churchyard’s bookstore were less interested in buying edifying books than hearing the latest gossip.30

To be sure, there were many shoppers at Paul’s, even those purchasing books, who had limited literacy. Despite this, the space in and around Paul’s was a centre of schooling. The most learned men in the nation—the preachers from the universities who came to orate at Paul’s Cross—regularly inhabited the precinct. Moreover, boys attended St Paul’s grammar school, located in the east side of the church, which was established in the 1520s by Dean John Colet.31 The dean and chapter granted land to the Mercers’ Company, the guild that oversaw the trade in luxury cloth, to build and run a rigorous day school emphasizing humanist education (Colet was greatly influenced by his friend, Erasmus); 153 pupils, generally drawn from London’s merchant families from nearby neighbourhoods, attended free of charge.32 They were expected to be at school from 7–11 a.m. and again from 1–5 p.m. In addition to taking instruction in the school built for the purpose, the grammar school boys also had examinations (apposition) in the Bishop’s Palace and in Mercer’s Hall in Cheapside. The students were allowed to play in the churchyard on Thursday afternoons, but their antics were frowned upon. During the bishop’s official visitation of 1598, members of the clergy complained that the schoolboys regularly broke windows and pissed on the door of St Faith’s church and the nearby (p. 641) stones so that they could slide down. As much as it was a sacred space and a place of learning, for the boys, Paul’s yard was a playground.

In addition to the grammar school, there was the school for the ten to eleven boy choristers of the cathedral.33 Choirboys from the church had the primary role of singing in the cathedral and at church services. The choir students also sang at court and they are most famous to literary scholars as the boys who comprised The Children of St Paul’s, who performed the sophisticated plays of John Marston, Thomas Middleton, and others. Scholars have vigorously debated the space in which they performed their plays, but have determined some details: the boys performed and lived inside a building, likely the almonry, adjacent to the west wall of the Chapter House wall, and they performed to an audience drawn from the nearby Inns of Court and local merchants, visitors, and residents.34 We also know that plays staged by Paul’s boys were likely shorter than those put on at the public playhouses, as they needed to be performed between 4:00 p.m., when evening prayers concluded, and 6:00 p.m., when the precinct gates closed. While Paul’s Boys ceased performing by 1606, the choristers still fulfilled an important role in church services. Paul’s Boys presents us with a wonderful example of how secular and religious life is intertwined to such an extent that extricating them is a foolish enterprise. The boy choristers for the cathedral put on sophisticated secular plays for commercial gain in a space that was and was not affiliated with the cathedral at large, and their schedule and schooling were dictated by the rhythms of quotidian church life.

There were also a number of informally erected language instruction schools set up in the churchyard.35 French Huguenots, the most well-known of which was Claude Holyband, offered Latin and French instruction to boys and adults. Holyband appears to be quite esteemed and was employed for a time as an assistant usher at Paul’s School. Holyband’s conversation manuals, which were sold in the churchyard, offer wonderful examples of quotidian middle class life in early modern London.36 The multiple sites at which learning was taking place in the precinct reminds us that the churchyard and its buildings were occupied by children (at least 163 on any given day) who sometimes behaved badly but who were regarded as an important part of church and precinct (p. 642) activities. The various sorts of schools also remind us of the deeply commercial ties that education had. The language teachers in the churchyard were selling their wares no less than the booksellers or shopkeepers in the yard were. The choirboys, whose primary function was to sing during official services in the cathedral, were for many years involved in the commercial world of London theatre. And Paul’s School was run by the very guild company that oversaw the international luxury cloth trade. One of Paul’s School’s most illustrious pupils was none other than Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange.

The Activities of the Cathedral

At Paul’s, morning prayers were held each day at 5 or 6 a.m. in the Jesus Chapel, beneath the choir, while services took place each evening and on Sunday mornings in the choir itself. Sunday services were completed in time for the congregants to go outside and attend the Paul’s Cross sermons. As a parish church, St Faith’s, next to Jesus Chapel, would have also conducted regular services and daily church business for its parishioners. The cathedral was generally not used for ceremonial royal services, a distinction associated primarily with Westminster, though prior to the Reformation several kings lay in state in the cathedral, including Richard II, Henry VI, and Henry VII. Arthur, Prince of Wales, married Catherine of Aragon in Paul’s. While there were fewer services and ceremonies in the cathedral after the Reformation, and fewer spaces of the church were devoted to religious ritual, the rhythm of quotidian life was to a certain extent still devoted to church business.

Just as the activities of Paul’s Cross relied on a large number of people to participate in and witness them, so too did the various happenings inside the church. Latin for ‘ship’, the nave traditionally served to take the ‘ship’s’ passengers (the congregation) on their symbolic voyage to Christ. Originally, its enormous rectangular space allowed a large number of laypeople to gather to hear services. The aisles on either side of the nave allowed churchgoers to move through the space without disturbing the activities of the centre aisle. The aisles contained several chapels and were lined with tombs and monuments of important church figures and royals, including Ethelred the Unready and John of Gaunt. Later, distinguished men such as Christopher Hatton, Elizabeth’s Lord Chancellor; Francis Walsingham; Philip Sidney; and John Donne, Dean of Paul’s were buried there. According to Stow, Hatton was buried ‘under a most sumptuous Monument, where a merry poet writ thus: Philip and Francis have no Tombe,/For great Christopher takes all the roome’.37 One fundamental function of monuments was to demonstrate the piety of the dead individual and his or her family. Harding suggests that (p. 643) the continual preponderance of tombs and monuments in post-Reformation London churches may have been ‘a way of compensating for [the] loss of a physical focus for acts of pious remembrance. Monuments could still assert the ongoing importance and activity of the dead even if they no longer featured in a liturgical reactivation of memory’.38 A monument in a cathedral announced elite status and piety to the living. It also suggested a deep connection to place, in this case London’s cathedral church, which would stand into perpetuity. As with the churchyard, whose structures were pulled down to make way for new, more relevant ones, the architecture of historical memory of the dead in Paul’s was never static. The tombs and monuments in the cathedral, which had associations with a medieval Catholic past, shared space and cultural meaning with the addition of more recent occupants.

Even in pre-Reformation England, the nave of St Paul’s was always a busy and bustling place, and secular activities did take place there. But the post-Reformation era saw a profound increase in the secular use or, as many thought of it, abuse of the nave. While cathedral architecture dictated its sacred use, it did the same for its secular use as well. The monument to Sir John Beauchamp was especially famous in the early modern period. Mistakenly thought to be to be the tomb of Duke Humphrey, Henry V’s brother, it was a prime loitering spot for the gallants who used the nave as their catwalk. To ‘dine with Sir Humphrey’, became a commonplace satirical expression for those who could not afford to have supper. Rather than leaving Paul’s to dine at an ordinary, they would remain there to loiter through the afternoon. In the late sixteenth century, then, tombs and monuments, physical structures intended to commemorate the lives of great men, also became a means for the secular users of the nave to mark space, and emerged as symbols for their idle lives.

A consequence of its size, centrality, and the fact that it was London’s largest enclosed space, the nave was used for many legitimate business transactions. The font was a meeting site for the payment of money.39 The dean gave twelve scribes licenses to set up tables at the west end of the nave and practise their profession: letter-writing for London’s illiterate or the drawing up of legal documents and wills among them.40 These scribes provided support for the lawyers, who set up their offices beside the massive pillars inside the nave. William Dugdale’s Origines Juridicales tells us that ‘each lawyer and sarjeant at his pillar heard his Client’s Cause, and took notes thereof upon his knee’.41 The luxury of an office to practise one’s profession was not an option in the sixteenth century and lawyers and scribes—like the merchants at the Royal Exchange near Threadneedle Street—needed a central and known space to draw their customers. Religious and domestic men likewise sought customers in Paul’s. The interior of one door was known as (p. 644) the si quis door (Latin for ‘if anyone’), a place for churchmen to advertise their services and where the Bishop of London could announce vacancies for clergy.42 In addition to advertising ecclesiastical positions and services, the si quis door was used to for manservants to advertise their availability, which became a source of satire in the literature of the day. Dekker advises his would-be gallant audience to avoid glancing at ‘Si-quis Door, pasted and plastered up with servingmen’s supplications’.43 In 3.1 of Ben Jonson’s Everyman Out of his Humour, famously located in ‘The Middle Aisle of St Paul’s’, the con-man Shift posts a bill, an act which he is relieved has gone unnoticed: ‘This is rare, I have set up my bills without discovery.’44 Paul’s nave also provided a ‘servingman’s pillar’ where domestic labourers would have been hired. Dekker warns his would-be gallant to ‘take heed … as you love the reputation of your honour, that you avoid the Servingman’s Log and approach not within five fathom of that pillar’.45 The joke here is that the gallant might be mistaken for a man in search of service. In 2 Henry IV, we learn that Falstaff has ‘bought [Bardolph] in Paul’s’ and suggests that the quality of his ‘purchase’ may not be all that one would hope for.46 Men’s labours, whether related to church business, the legal profession, or domestic help, were all on display and for sale in the nave.

Goods were also for sale, as most of the south-side chapels in the nave were let by the dean; shops were open for business every day, including Sundays.47 Labourers used the interior spaces of the church for workshops and storage: carpenters rented out the vaults; trunk-makers leased the crypts; and the chapel under the east of the south aisle was rented out to a glazier. There were two sets of doors opposite each other on the north and south sides of the nave, which provided a thoroughfare for those from the south side to the north, or vice versa. Rather than going around the massive structure, men who needed to haul goods from Paul’s Warf to the shops and warehouses north of the church took advantage of this feature. Porters, butchers, water bearers, and even mules and horses cut through the church nave. Continual complaints did not seem to halt the practice. These activities suggest a profound absence of religious life in the church nave, and largely that was true. However, the business conducted in the nave was carried out with the full knowledge on the part of church officials, who authorized many of the business practices.

The seemingly profane uses of the nave get to the heart of questions about the meaning of St Paul’s church. In post-Reformation England, what does a cathedral symbolize if not the Roman church’s grandeur? How does the repurposing of architectural space uphold the religious function of the cathedral, even as it challenges it? What are the implications, both to religious identity and civic identity if the cathedral is used in a manner seemingly out of step with devout practices? No longer regularly needed for (p. 645) church services, the nave was adapted for other needs. Making use of available space, adapting it to one’s needs, is the hallmark of the ways humans interact with architectural spaces and features. The absence of official religious services does not necessarily mean the nave was fully detached from church business. The revenue provided to the dean from these uses suggests that secular practices became church business.

One curious, but sanctioned, financial scheme was the collection of ‘spur money’, fees assessed on any person who entered the church wearing spurs.48 Spurs, a fashionable accessory of the London gallant, who may or may not have been riding a horse, jingled distractingly in the church and disturbed the religious services. The men, who likely would buy their spurs in the shops on Creed Lane (known as ‘Spurrier’s Lane’), off the south-west corner of the churchyard, would then enter the church to show them off. The task of collecting money fell upon the boy choristers. Dekker provides evidence for this as he admonishes the walker of Paul’s to

[b]‌e sure your silver spurs clog your heels, and then the boys will swarm about you like so many white butterflies; when you in the open quire, shall draw forth a perfumed embroidered purse—the glorious sight of which will entice many countrymen from their devotion to wondering—and quoit silver into the boy’s hands, that it may be heard above the first lesson, although it be read in a voice as big as one of the great organs.49

Dekker here suggests that the paying of spur-money was a desirable spectacle, one that would allow the gallant flamboyantly and publicly to show off his wealth, if indeed he had it. The boys, dressed in white choir robes apparently abandoned their post and bombarded the offender to exact the fee. The lightness of the offense is underscored by the opportunity for counter-play, where the man from whom the spur money was demanded had the prerogative to request that the chorister sing his gamut, the full range of twelve pitches. If the boy could not do so, the spur wearer did not have to pay his fine.50 Dekker’s passage also provides us with some important details: during services the choir was ‘open’ and the laypeople in the choir were both participating in the service (the ‘countrymen’ are at ‘devotion’) and distracting those congregants by loitering. His passage informs us that church space being used for official church business was not at all cut off from the rest of the church. This is symbolized by the screen, which was a permeable barrier; light and noise could get in and out, and the screen could open and close.

The architecture of Paul’s provided money-making opportunities for some members of the church community. The bell-ringers of the cathedral would charge a penny to people who wanted to climb the steps to take in the view of London.51 Thomas Platter (p. 646) writes that he had ‘climbed three hundred steps to the Church roof, which was broad and covered with lead, so that one may walk there, indeed every Sunday many men and women stroll together on this roof. Up there I had a splendid view of the entire city of London, of how long and narrow it is.’52 Not all who climbed the stairs were so well behaved. There were complaints of the noise made by those who climbed the steps, who also carved their names in the stone and lead.53 Not all who climbed the stairs had two legs: there was the famous incident of showman William Banks’s horse, Morocco, ascending to the steeple and dancing on the roof. Some evidence suggests the nave was a site for prostitutes to find customers; the wives of two bell-ringers were suspected of solicitation when taking men’s money to climb the stairs. It is difficult to know if this was a widespread practice or if the women were even engaging in illicit activity. Regardless, Paul’s nave was perceived of as a site where this type of activity could occur.54

Whether or not prostitution took place at Paul’s, other criminal activity apparently thrived there, presumably because so many wealthy individuals or those who carried cash congregated there.55 It was a notorious haunt for pickpockets, cutpurses, and con-men to find victims. In the Second Part of Conny-Catching, Robert Greene’s 1592 pamphlet on the ‘art’ of theft through trickery among London’s criminals, he describes an incident that took place in the middle aisle: a wealthy country farmer was promenading up and down the nave, in imitation of the urbane gentleman’s pastime. He ‘kept his hand close in his pocket, and his purse fast in his fist like a subtil churl, that … had been forwarnd of Pauls … [I]‌t was impossible to do any good with him he was so warie’.56 Apparently, Plan B had to be put into effect: One con-man pretended to fall into a swoon, expecting that the farmer would respond with respectable country manners, while an accomplice stole his purse:

At this there gathered a great multitude of people about him, and the whilest the Foiste drewe the farmers purse and away: by that the other thought the feat was done, he began to come something to himselfe againe, and so halfe staggering, stumbled out of Paules, and went after the crue where they had appointed to meet, and their boasted of his wit and experience.57

While one should be careful in using the rogue literature as evidence for criminal activity, it is clear from Greene’s five pamphlets on the subject of the London underworld that by the early 1590s, Paul’s Walk had gained notoriety as a place of which to be wary, (p. 647) as indicated by the careful hand the farmer keeps on purse and pocket.58 That Paul’s was a gathering place for organized criminals, not simply a convenient spot for the isolated thief is important here. Not unlike the legitimate business practices taking place in the nave, the criminal activity of Paul’s is well known. In the Third Part of Conny-Catching, Greene describes a ‘crew of these wicked companions, being one day met together in Pauls Church (as that is a usual place of their assemblie, both to determin on their drifts, as also to speed of many a bootie)’.59 The ‘crew’ of criminals, the ‘assembly’ of outlaws needs a ‘usual’ place to meet, not only to carry out their crimes, but to plan their cons and divide their booty and—as with many business meetings of professionals—to ‘boast of their wit and experience’. Hiding in plain sight, thieves found Paul’s cathedral nave an amenable space for their business.

While the nave and other parts of the church interior were important to all facets of the London commercial scene, it was also a hub for social activity. A central interior space, easily accessible during daytime hours, and readily locatable for those who were not from London, the nave was well known throughout England as an important meeting point for (mostly) men to gather for business and pleasure. It was a key meeting spot for courtiers, who used Paul’s as a place to share the latest goings-on at court and international news. In Faults, Faults, and Nothing Else but Faults (1606), Barnabie Rich describes ‘The State Ape’ or newsmonger: ‘He useth to frequent the Exchange, and you shall meet him in the middle walke in Paules at ten of the clocke, and three of the clocke: and after the vulgar salutation of, God save you sir, the next shall be an Interrogatory, I pray sir, what newes doe you heare from Spaine?’60 Here, the newsmonger is satirized, though his twice daily appearances at Paul’s seems to be supported by the real-life world of John Chamberlain, a wealthy Londoner, whose prolific letter-writing reveals the gossip that he learned and the business to which he attended in his time in Paul’s walk.61

The use of Paul’s Walk by the gallants or would-be gallants of the period has received the lion’s share of attention by scholars interested in the secular uses of the church. These men treated Paul’s as a catwalk to display their fashion as they strolled the middle aisle with no clear purpose. Indeed, Paul’s Walk figures prominently in the imaginative literature of the day and plays including Michaelmas Term, Everyman Out of his Humor, and An Englishman for my Money have scenes set there. Satirical verse and prose of the period teems with references to the Paul’s Man, who cut a ridiculous figure.62 Paul’s walkers used the architectural features of the church—Sir Humphrey’s Tomb, the west (p. 648) door, and the pillars—as props for their urban dance.63 But because the gallant of Paul’s as a figure in literature has been treated extensively elsewhere, I do not do so here, primarily because the multitudinous other uses and users of Paul’s have been given relatively short shrift. It is my hope that a greater understanding of the many individuals and groups who used the space, the nave in the context of its larger activities, and the understanding of the way that it was positioned physically and symbolically in the precinct as a whole helps us to rethink the Paul’s Man as more than just an idle gallant. Rather he was a small part of a much larger urban network of users of the church.

I would like to conclude my discussion of the nave, and of Paul’s, with what is perhaps the most famous description, from Bishop John Earle’s Microcosmography, because it so beautifully evinces the varied activity that took place there.

It is the land’s epitome, or you may call it the lesser isle of Great Britain. It is more than this, the whole world’s map, which you may here discern in its perfectest motion, jostling and turning. It is a heap of stones and men, with a vast confusion of languages … It is the great exchange of all discourse, and no business whatsoever but is here stirring and afoot. It is the synod of all pates politic, jointed and laid together in most serious posture … It is the market of young lecturers, whom you may cheapen here at all rates and sizes. It is the general mint of all famous lies … All inventions are emptied here, and not a few pockets … It is the other expense of the day, after plays, tavern, and a bawdy-house; and men have still some oaths left to swear here. It is the ear’s brothel, and satisfies their lust and itch. The visitants are all men without exceptions, but the principal inhabitants and possessors are stale knights and captains out of service; men of long rapiers and breeches, which after all turn merchants here and traffic for news. Some make it a preface to their dinner … but thriftier men make it their ordinary, and board here very cheap. Of all places it is least haunted with hobgoblins, for if a ghost would walk more, he could not.64

Figured here as a geographical site—it is the ‘land’s epitome’, the ‘lesser isle of Great Britaine’, and ‘the world’s map’—Earle privileges the physical structure of St Paul’s nave, its location in space. But in his emphasis on Paul’s as a little world, he necessarily enumerates the various activities and people that occupy that space. Earle’s use of the language of financial arrangements—‘exchange’, ‘market’, ‘mint’, ‘inventions’, ‘expense’—shows how Paul’s figured so prominently in the commercial imagination of the period. Earle’s description points us to the complexities of the nave but also to Paul’s at large. St Paul’s Cathedral precinct was secular and sacred, serious and ridiculous, static and dynamic, dilapidated and renewed. It was a site of sustenance and deprivation, learnedness and stupidity, spectacle and modesty, clarity and confusion, tradition and invention. While we must discuss the many areas and activities of the precinct on their own (p. 649) terms, treating these activities and areas as truly separate or discrete does not do justice to the complex space of Paul’s as a whole. It was an early modern example of what Andreas Huyssen has called the ‘urban palimpsest’, with its layers of buildings removed and rebuilt, its layers of histories, and layers of meanings.65 (p. 650)


(*) The writing of this chapter was enabled by a Fletcher Jones Foundation Fellowship from the Huntington Library. I would like to thank Malcolm Smuts and Christopher Highley for their generous reading of this chapter.

(1) Bishop Pilkington wrote the main narrative of the fire, The True Report of the Burnyng of the Steple and Churche of Poules in London, on 10 June 1561. It can be found in Documents Illustrating the History of S. Paul’s Cathedral, ed. W. Sparrow Simpson (London: Camden Society, 1880), 120–5. For a discussion of attempts at renovation, see Roze Hentschell, ‘The Repair and Renovation Efforts for St Paul’s Cathedral: 1561–1625’, in Paul’s Cross and the Culture of Persuasion in England, 1520–1640, ed. Torrance Kirby (Leiden: Brill, 2014), chap. 20. See also William Dugdale, The History of St Pauls Cathedral in London (London, 1658). Wenceslaus Hollar’s magnificent etchings of the cathedral accompany Dugdale’s text and provide much of the existing evidence for what the cathedral looked like in the period.

(2) Reavley Gair, The Children of Paul’s: The Story of a Theatre Company, 1553–1608 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 69–70. Gair provides an excellent overview of the cathedral and its activities.

(3) Caroline M. Barron and Marie-Hélène Rousseau, ‘Cathedral, City and State, 1300–1540’, in St Paul’s: The Cathedral Church of London, 604–2004, ed. Derek Keene, R. Arthur Burns, and Andrew Saint (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004), chap. 5; Mary C. Erler, ‘Introduction’, in Ecclesiastical London, ed. Mary C. Erler (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), xi.

(4) Recent work includes several essays in the magisterial St Paul’s, 604–2004, ed. Keene, Burns, and Saint, esp. chaps 6, 18, and 40. For Paul’s Cross, see Mary Morrisey, Politics and the Paul’s Cross Sermons, 1558–1642 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) and Torrance Kirby, ‘The Public Sermon: Paul’s Cross and the Culture of Persuasion in England: 1534–1570’, Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme 31 (2008): 3–29. For Paul’s Walk, see Mary Bly, ‘Carnal Geographies: Mocking and Mapping the Religious Body’, in Masculinity and the Metropolis of Vice, 1550–1650, ed. Amanda Bailey and Roze Hentschell (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 89–114; and Amanda Bailey, Flaunting: Style and the Subversive Male Body in Renaissance England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), chap. 5.

(5) C. W. Shepherd, Everyone’s St Paul’s (London: Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd., 1966), 27; Francis Cranmer Penrose, ‘On the Recent Discoveries of Old St Paul’s Cathedral’. Archaelogica 48 (1883): 381–92.

(6) Bryan Crockett, ‘Thomas Playfere’s Poetics of Preaching’ in The English Sermon Revised: Religion, Literature, and History 1600–1750, ed. Laurie Anne Ferrell and Peter McCullough (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 2000), 66.

(7) Alan Fager Herr, The Elizabethan Sermon: A Survey and A Bibliography (New York: Octagon Books, 1969), 24; Rosemary O’Day, ‘Ecclesiastical Patronage: Who Controlled the Church?’, in Church and Society in England: Henry VIII to James I, ed. Felicity Heal and Rosemary O’Day (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1977), 151.

(8) See Bryan Crockett, The Play of Paradox: Stage and Sermon in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), chap. 2.

(9) William Procter, The Watchman Warning (London, 1625), sig. A4v.

(10) William Holbrooke, Love’s Complaint, For Want of Entertainment (London, 1609), sig. E3v. Holbrook uses a title that would have invoked a tradition of love poetry; Shakespeare’s A Lover’s Complaint was also published in 1609. For more on sermons aimed at the Paul’s gallant, see Roze Hentschell, ‘Moralizing Apparel in Early Modern London: Sermons, Satire, and Sartorial Display’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 39 (2009): 571–95.

(11) Named after the prophet Jeremiah, and often based on the Old Testament books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, these sermons compare London to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, prophesizing God’s punishment of the city unless the inhabitants reform their sinful ways. See Mary Morrissey, ‘Elect Nations and Prophetic Preaching: Types and Examples in the Paul’s Cross Jeremiad’, in English Sermon Revised, ed. Ferrell and McCullough, 43–58.

(13) David J. Crankshaw, ‘Community, City and Nation, 1540–1714’, in St Paul’s: The Cathedral Church, 57.

(14) The Letters of John Chamberlain, ed. Norman Egbert McClure, 2 vols (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1939), 1.334.

(15) Haig A. Bosmajian, Burning Books (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006), 73–64. Also see Cyndia Clegg, Press Censorship in Jacobean England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 69.

(16) Bryan Crockett discusses St Paul’s as a site that rivaled the playhouses for the theatricality of the activities that transpired there and the behaviour of those who attended them. See The Play of Paradox: Stage and Sermon in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), esp. chap. 2.

(17) Michael F. J. McDonnell, A History of St Paul’s School (London: Chapman and Hall, 1909), 117. David M. Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry, 1558–1642, rev. edn (Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University, 2003), 27.

(18) Lawrence Manley, Literature and Culture in Early Modern London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 239.

(19) For a discussion of burials in the churchyard space, see Vanessa Harding, The Dead and the Living in Paris and London, 1500–1670 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), chap. 4.

(20) Quoted in Liza Picard, Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2003), 188.

(22) According to parish records from St Gregory’s, in the 1590s several people died in the churchyard from wounds received in brawls. See Gair, Children of Paul’s, 24. Another fascinating churchyard activity was the drawing of the lottery, which was first carried out in the mid-sixteenth century in Paul’s Churchyard. People would buy a ‘blank’ or ticket to win silver plate. Money raised initially went for repair of the harbour. So popular were the lottery drawings that a shed was built outside the west door of the church for the purpose. Henry Hart Milman, Annals of St Paul’s Cathedral, 2nd edn (London: John Murray, 1869), 314; William Benham, Old St Paul’s Cathedral (London: Seeley and Co., 1902), 50.

(23) The definitive source on the bookstalls and bookshops is Peter W. M. Blayney, The Bookshops in Paul’s Cross Churchyard (London: The Bibliographic Society, 1990). See also James Raven, ‘St Paul’s Precinct and the Book Trade to 1800’, in St Paul’s: The Cathedral Church of London, chap. 40.

(24) Paul J. Voss, ‘Books for Sale: Advertising and Patronage in Late Elizabethan England’, Sixteenth Century Journal 29.3 (1998): 733–56; H. S. Bennett, English Books and Readers, 1558–1603 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 260; Alan B. Farmer and Zachary Lesser, ‘Vile Arts: The Marketing of English Printed Drama, 1512–1660’, Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 39 (2000): 78.

(25) Thomas Campion, Observations in the Art of English Poesie (London, 1602), sig. A4.

(26) Ben Jonson, ‘To My Bookseller’, in Ben Jonson, ed. Ian Donaldson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 11.

(27) Jonson, ‘To My Bookseller’, 5, 7. See also Ian Green, Print and Protestantism in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 34–36; David Cressy, Literacy and the Social Order: Reading and Writing in Tudor and Stuart England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980). See Thomas Churchyard for a contemporary description of the Paul’s yard shopper in The Mirror of Man, and Manners of Men (London, 1594).

(28) H. S. Bennett, English Books and Readers, 1558–1603 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 260.

(29) Thomas Dekker, The Gull’s Horn-Book, 1609, in Thomas Dekker, ed. E. D. Pendry (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968), 89.

(31) Michael F. J. McDonnell, A History of St Paul’s School (London: Chapman and Hall, 1909).

(32) Donald Leman Clark, John Milton at St Paul’s School: A Study of Ancient Rhetoric in English Renaissance Education (New York: Columbia University Press, 1948; Reprinted by Archon Books, 1964), 41

(33) For a discussion of the relationship between the grammar school boys and the choristers, see Hentschell, ‘Our Children Made Enterluders’: Choristers, Actors, and Students in St Paul’s Cathedral Precinct’, forthcoming in Early Theatre.

(34) For a discussion of the location of the playing space, see Harold Newcomb Hillebrand, The Child Actors: A Chapter in Elizabethan Stage History (London: Russell and Russell, 1926), 112–14; Gair, Children of Paul’s, 455; Roma Ball, ‘The Choir-Boy Actors of St Paul’s Cathedral’, The Emporia State Research Studies 10 (1962): 5–16; and, more recently, Herbert Berry, ‘Where Was the Playhouse in Which the Boy Choristers of St Paul’s Cathedral Performed Played?’ Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 13 (2001): 101–16; and Roger Bowers, ‘The Playhouse of the Choristers of Paul’s c.1575–1608’, Theatre Notebook 55 (2001): 70–85.

(35) Kathleen Lambley, The Teaching and Cultivation of the French Language in England during Tudor and Stuart Times (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1920).

(36) The Elizabethan Home Discovered in Two Dialogues by Claudius Holyband and Peter Erondell, ed. M. St Clare Byrne (London: Methuen, 1949); Claude Holyband, The French Littleton: A Most Easy, Perfect, and Absolute Way to Learne the French Tongue, 1576 (London, 1630).

(37) John Stow, A Survey of London, 1603, ed. Charles Lethbridge Kingsford, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908), 1.338.

(39) The Works of James Pilkington, ed. James Scholefield (Cambridge: University Press, 1842), 541.

(40) W. Sparrow Simpson, ed. Chapters in the History of Old S. Paul’s (London: Elliot Stock, 1881), chap. 80.

(41) Quoted in William Longman, A History of the Three Cathedrals Dedicated to St Paul in London (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1873), 49.

(44) Ben Jonson, Everyman Out of His Humor, ed. Helen Ostovich (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), 3.1.21–22.

(46) 2 Henry IV, 2.1.51.

(48) G. H. Cook, Old S. Paul’s Cathedral: A Lost Glory of Medieval London (London: Phoenix House, 1955), 8.

(51) The bellmen of the cathedral were usually laypeople who assisted with services and were also charged with keeping the church clean, though they often neglected this duty. Gair, Children of Paul’s, 26.

(52) Quoted in Picard, Elizabeth’s London, 83.

(55) For this reason, Paul’s drew beggars that haunted both the churchyard and the nave. Paul Griffiths, Lost Londons: Change, Crime, and Control in the Capital City, 1550–1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

(56) Robert Greene, The Second Part of Conny-Catching, 1592, ed. G. B. Harrison (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1966), 40.

(58) Despite his warning that we should be careful when using rogue literature as historical evidence, Griffiths finds contemporary accounts of much of the activity Greene describes in his pamphlets. See Lost Londons: Change, Crime, and Control in the Capital City, 1550–1660.

(59) Robert Greene, The Third and Last Part of Conny-Catching (London, 1592), sig. Cv.; my emphases.

(60) Barnabie Rich, Faults, Faults, and Nothing Else but Faults (London, 1606), sig. C3r–v.

(61) The Letters of John Chamberlain.

(62) For an extensive, but by no means exhaustive, list of literary references to Paul’s, see Edward H. Sugden, A Topographical Dictionary to the Works of Shakespeare and his Fellow Dramatists (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1925).

(63) For a brilliant reading of the choreography of the gallants in nave, see Helen Ostovich, Introduction, Every Man Out of His Humour, ed. Helen Ostovich (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001).

(64) John Earle, Microcosmography, or A Piece of the World Discovered in Essays & Characters, 1628 (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1934), 60–1.

(65) Andreas Huyssen, Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003).