Smithfield has a rather gruesome history.

For example, on 16 July 1646 Anne Askew was burnt at the stake along with John Lascelles (a lawyer and Gentleman of the King’s Privy Chamber), John Hadlam (a tailor from Essex) and John Hemsley (a former Franciscan friar). A great stage was built at Smithfield for the convenience of Chancellor Wriothesley, other members of the Privy Council and City dignitaries, to watch the burning in comfort …

The execution of Anne Askew and her companions – 1563 woodcut from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

Anne herself, having been illegally broken on the rack, was unable to stand, and was chained to the stake in a sitting position. You can read more about this fascinating, brave lady here.

Every burning was different; if the fire ‘caught’, it could be over relatively quickly, but on damp days, or when the wind persisted in blowing the flames away from the body, it could take up to an hour for the condemned person to die, an hour of excruciating agony.

Their crime was heresy and of the 288 people estimated to have been burnt during the five year reign of Mary Tudor, forty eight were killed in Smithfield. ‘Bloody Mary’ was the daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon and the burnings were part of her campaign to reverse the English Reformation.

The ‘Marian Martyrs’ are commemorated with this plaque erected by the Protestant Alliance in 1870 …

The gilding is a little faded in this picture. It reads …

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord. The noble army of martyrs praise Thee! Within a few feet of this spot,

John Rogers,

John Bradford,

John Philpot,

and other servants of God, suffered death by fire for the faith of Christ, in the years 1555, 1556, 1557

This had been a place of public execution for over 400 years; many witches and heretics had been burnt, roasted or boiled alive there. It was here that the Scottish hero and patriot, Sir William Wallace, was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1315 and has two memorials. This one in West Smithfield (EC1A 7AQ) …

There are often fresh flowers left here in his memory.

And another just inside the entrance to the St Bartholomew the Great churchyard …

This slate triptych, also in West Smithfield,was unveiled by Ken Loach in July 2015 and commemorates the Great Rising of 1381 (more commonly known as the Peasants’ Revolt) …

The Revolt was led by Wat Tyler and on June 15th 1381 he had the opportunity to speak directly to the 14-year-old king, Richard II. Accompanying the King was the Lord Mayor of London William Walworth and, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Walworth ran Tyler through with his sword. Badly wounded, Tyler was carried into nearby St Bartholomew’s Hospital but, rather unsportingly, Walworth had him dragged out and decapitated. Poll Tax protesters were dealt with very ruthlessly in those days!

The Mayor is commemorated with a statue on Holborn Viaduct

His trusty sword is in a scabbard at his side.

Here is a 15th century depiction of Walworth in action …

The death of Wat Tyler. From a manuscript copy of the Chronicles of Jean Froissart, created in 1483.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Queen Mary’s dad, Henry VIII, has a statue nearby over the main entrance to the hospital. If you have seen and admired the famous Holbein portrait, the king’s pose here is very familiar. He stands firmly and sternly with his legs apart, one hand on his dagger, the other holding a sceptre. He also sports an impressive codpiece …

Founded in 1331, the hospital was put seriously at risk in 1534, when Henry VIII commenced the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The nearby priory of St Bartholomew was suppressed in 1539 and the hospital would have followed had not the City fathers petitioned the king and asked for it to be granted back to the City. Their motives were not entirely altruistic. The hospital, they said, was needed to help:

the myserable people lyeing in the streete, offendyng every clene person passyng by the way with theyre fylthye and nastye savors.

Henry finally agreed in December 1546 on condition that the refounded hospital was renamed ‘House of the poore on West Smithfield in the suburbs of the City of London, of King Henry’s foundation’. I suspect people still tended to call it Bart’s. Henry finally got full public recognition when the gatehouse was rebuilt in 1702 and his statue was placed where we still see it today. The work was undertaken and overseen by the mason John Strong, who was at the same time working for Sir Christopher Wren on St Paul’s Cathedral. Such were the masons’ talents, no architectural plans were needed to complete the work.

By the way, you can see the agreement, with Henry’s signature, at the lovely little St Bartholomew’s Museum when hopefully it reopens next year. Here’s a picture of the document I took a few years ago …

It also bears the Henry’s seal, the king charging into battle on horseback accompanied by a dog …

The hospital was founded, along with the Priory of St Bartholomew, in 1123 by Rahere, formerly a courtier of Henry I, and if you pop into the church of St Bartholomew the Great you can see his tomb …

Rahere died in 1143 and his tomb dates from 1405.

I found this great picture of how the tomb was protected from bomb damage during the First World War …

There were several near misses from bombs dropped by Zeppelin airships and you can still see shrapnel marks on the hospital’s walls …

As you leave the hospital, pause for a few moments at the little War Memorial commemorating those who lost their lives in the ‘Great War’ . I took these pictures just after the Armistice Day ceremony …

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_7224-529x1024.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_7225-680x1024.jpg

This touching message commemorates a Second World War sailor …

If you want to know more about the Smithfield burnings here is a link to one of my sources and a book entitled The Burning Time – The Story of the Smithfield Martyrs.

I have discovered a lot more to write about relating to Smithfield and will return there in a future blog.

If you would like to follow me on Instagram here is the link …

https://www.instagram.com/london_city_gent/