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St. Paul’s Churchyard

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St. Paul’s Churchyard is the area surrounding the Cathedral of St. Paul. According to Walter Thornbury, the precinct wall of St. Paul’s first ran from Ave Maria Lane eastward along Paternoster Row to the old Exchange, Cheapside, then southwards to Carter Lane, at the end of which it turned to Ludgate Archway (Thornbury). When he became bishop of St. Paul’s in 1107, Richard de Belmeis inherited the rebuilding of the church, which had begun in 1087. Stow’s 1603 account of the churchyard describes the way in which land around it was incorporated:
This Mauricius deceased in the yeare 1107. Richard Beamor succeeded him in the Bishopricke, who did wonderfully increase the said church, purchasing of his owne cost the large streetes and lanes about it, wherin were wont to dwel many lay people, which ground he began to compasse about, with a strong wall of stone, & gates. King H. the first gaue to the said Richard, so much of the Mote (or wall) of the castle, on the Thames side to the South, as should be needfull to make the said wall of the church, & so much as should suffise to make a wal without the way on the north sideGap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (CH)[…]
It should seeme that this Richard inclosed but two sides of the said church or Cemitory of S.Paule, to wit, the South and North side: for King Edward the second, in the tenth of his raigne, granted that the said churchyard should be inclosed with a wall where it wanted, for the murthers and robberies that were there committed. But the cittizens then claimed the East part of the church yarde to be the place of assembly to their folkemotes, and that the great steeple there scituate was to that vse, their common bell, which being there rung, al the inhabitants of the citie might heare and come together. They also claimed the west side, that they might there assemble themselues together, with the Lord of Baynards Castle,1 for view of their armour in defence of the cittie. This matter was in the Tower of London referred to Haruius de Stanton, and his fellow Iustices Itenerantes, but I finde not the decision or judgement of that controuersie.
True it is, that Edward the third, in the seuenteene of his raigne, gaue commandement for the finishing of that wall, which was then performed, and to this day it continueth; although now on both the sides (to wit, within and without) it be hidden with dwelling houses. Richard Beamer deceased in the yeare 1127. and his successors in processe of time performed the worke begun.
(Stow 1:325-326)
There were six access points into the enclosure: Ludgate Street; Paul’s Alley from Paternoster Row; Canon Alley leading to the north door; the gate from Cheapside Street; St. Augustine’s Gate into Watling Street; and the gate at Paul’s Chain. Posterns were opened from dawn until night. Paul’s Chain is first mentioned in 1444 as Poules-cheyne (Harben 461) and was a chain or barrier which was put across the carriage way during the hours of public worship to stop people entering the churchyard whilst worship was in progress.
The new enclosure included the land where the mayor and citizens had once held court. They called this assembly the Folkmoot, a word derived from the old English folcgemōt, from folc, meaning folk, and gemót, meaning meeting (OED folkmoot|fokemoot, n.). However, the inclusion of the gate of St. Augustine meant that people no longer had free access and egress. Thornbury refers to a number of buildings that were situated within the churchyard, including the Bishop’s palace, a slaughter-house, and a brewery (Thornbury). Slaughter-houses were normally housed outside of the city, and animals were frequently killed in the open air. This would have meant considerable mess and the smell of blood, the buzzing of flies, and the noises of distressed animals. Many of these properties were sold or leased as shops under Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. There was a charnel house in the churchyard, but this was pulled down in 1549, and the bones were moved to Finsbury Field. According to Dugdale, this was replaced by a stationer’s house and shop viz. the sign of the Rose (Dugdale 131), reflecting the tendency for booksellers and printers to move into the churchyard. In the east of the churchyard was St. Paul’s School, which was built in 1512 by John Colet, and the belfry tower, which held the Jesus bells until Henry VIII lost them at dice to Sir Miles Partridge, who pulled down the tower and sold the materials (Thornbury).


The churchyard was a burial ground for the small parishes around the cathedral, and victims of the 1563 and 1666 plagues were buried there (Harding). It was closed for burial in 1874 (London Gardens Online).
In the middle of the churchyard stood St. Paul’s Cross, an open-air pulpit where public proclamations and Papal edicts were delivered, before the Reformation. It was destroyed in 1643 during the civil war, and a plaque now marks where it stood. The pulpit, along with the Folkmoot, made St. Paul’s Churchyard a meeting place for people and a centre for public gathering. On Shrove Tuesday, 1527, six Lutherans were processed, in penitential dress, to St. Paul’s, and a burning of heretical books took place, possibly including Tyndale’s version of the New Testament (Thornbury).
Machyn records the punishments of others. When a man gainsaid a preacher at St. Paul’s Cross in August 1561, he had to stand with a sheet around him in November as punishment (Machyn 271). In 1554, a scaffold was erected for a maid who spoke in the wall and whistled in Aldgate Street (Machyn 66). In 1555, an old man who railed against government and religion was taken to the Counter (a prison on either Wood Street or Poultry) (Machyn 98). On 26 November 1555, a stripling was whipped for speaking about a Bishop who had preached at St. Paul’s Cross the Sunday before, and in 1559, a preacher did penance for marrying people who had been married before (Machyn 207).
Despite Edward II’s intention, enclosing the churchyard did not eradicate crime, nor did Elizabeth’s ban on fray, drawing of swords in the church or shooting with hand gun or dagg within the church or churchyard (Thornbury), on punishment of two months’ imprisonment. In 1554, a gun was fired over the head of one Doctor Pendleton, who was preaching at St. Paul’s Cross (Machyn 65). Machyn records several other violent incidents that took place within the churchyard. In 1660, William North was put on trial at the Old Bailey for killing Mr. Wynborne outside the west door of St. Paul’s and was hanged in the churchyard (Machyn 222). Later that year, Mr. Bodeley, a gentleman of the temple, was murdered in the churchyard by one of Mr. Alcock’s servants (Machyn 227). Even when the crimes had not been committed there, St. Paul’s Churchyard could be used to host the punishment: in 1554, two men (Wyatt’s spy and the under-sheriff of Leicester) convicted of carrying letters for the Duke of Suffolk were hanged in the churchyard (Machyn 54). Later that month, four more were hanged.
As a traditional gathering place, St. Paul’s Churchyard was used at times of celebration. Machyn’s description of the 1553 Lord Mayor’s Parade offers readers a taste of the atmosphere that such events created:
my lord mayre landyd at Banard Castyll and [in St. Paul’s] chyrche-yerd dyd hevere craft wher set in [array]: furst wher ij tallmen bayreng ij gret streamers [of] the Marchand-tayllers armes, then cam one [with a] drume and a flutt playng, and a-nodur with a gret f[ife?] all they in blue sylke, and then cam ij grett wodyn [armed] with ij grett clubes all in grene, and with skwybes bornyng Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (KL)[…] with gret berds and syd here, and ij targets a-pon ther bake Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (KL)[…] and then cam xvj trumpeters blohyng, and then cam in [blue] gownes, and capes and hosse and blue sylke slevys, and evere man havyng a target and a gayffelyn to the nombur of lxx Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (KL)[…] and then cam a duyllyll, and after cam the bachelars all in a leveray, and skarlett hods; and then cam the pagant of sant John Baptyst gorgyusly, with goodly speches; and then cam all the kynges trumpeters blowhyng, and evere trumpeter havyng skarlet capes, and the wetes capes and godly banars.
(Machyn 47-48)
Similar processions took place on St. Paul’s day, for example in 1555, when clergy and children from St. Paul’s School and Grey Friars walked through the churchyard and into the cathedral (Machyn 80). When the new Lord Mayor, Thomas Curtes, took office in October 1557, he was treated to a pageant in the churchyard (Machyn 155).

Literary References

In The Queen’s Majesty’s Passage, Queen Elizabeth received an oration from one of the children from St. Paul’s School, which was closely linked with both the cathedral and the churchyard. The oration offers England as an example of the sort of republic that Plato described, praising Elizabeth and her nation as the epitome of such a nation, and, as Warkentin suggests, the Queen’s accession signified the return of the golden age, though rooted in the ancient praises accorded entering monarchs, is also the first hint of a body of imagery that would, in the later years of the Queen’s long reign, be deployed to associate her with the goddess Astrea (Warkentin 73). Elizabeth is described as being chosen by Christ himself: Vos igitur Angli tot commoda accepturi Elizabetham Reginam nostram celeberriman ab ipso Christo huibus regni imperio destinatam, honore debito prosequimini (The Queen’s Majesty’s Passage sig. D.ii.r.). The poem then continues this praise, hailing the dawn of a golden age in which everything that has fallen will rise again. At the beginning of the passage, Elizabeth’s reception is described: she was of the people receiued merueylous entierly, as appeared by thassemblie, prayers, wisshes, welcomminges, cryes, tender woordes, and all other signes, whiche argue a wonderfull earnest loue of most obedient subiectes towarde theyr soueraygne (The Queen’s Majesty’s Passage sig. A.ii.r.). Despite the relative lack of detail in the performance and the reception of the oration in St. Paul’s Churchyard, it is reasonable to assume that the same sort of response awaited her there. The churchyard was a traditional place of gathering, and would have been full of people anxious to get a glimpse of their sovereign. At several points, The Queen’s Majesty’s Passage refers to the difficulty Elizabeth had in hearing the pageants and orations, asking what that pageant was ere that she came to it at Cornhill, because shee feared for the peoples noyse, that she should not here the child which did expounde the same (The Queen’s Majesty’s Passage sig. B.iii.r.). The loudest noises of the soundscape would have been bells and canons, with people, animals, the weather, and so forth providing background noise (Smith 49). There would have been a large crowd in the churchyard, and the architecture of the place itself would have influenced the sort of sound that they created since sound was absorbed, reflected, and dispersed according to the physical characteristics of the cathedral, the other buildings, and the people themselves. Stone would have deflected sound, and plaster-over-lathe would have been reverberant, aiding the oration’s audibility (Smith 180). However, the orator would still have had to compete with the absorbing factor of the people and the background noise created by the people and animals that filled the churchyard.
Against a soundscape composed of pre-industrial noises, the sounds from other elements of the passage would have been audible to the people congregated in the churchyard that day. At The Standard in Cheap was placed a noyse of Trumpettes, and at the door to St. Peter, Westcheap stode the waites of the citie, which did geue a pleasant noyse with theyr instrumentes as the Quenes maiestie did passe by (The Queen’s Majesty’s Passage sig. C.ii.v.). Depending on the wind direction, it is entirely possible that these noises would have been audible in St. Paul’s Churchyard, especially the trumpets with their strident, penetrating timbre. At Ludgate, Elizabeth was receiued with a noyse of instruments, and again, this was likely to have been audible to the people congregated in the churchyard or by those following the pageant towards it. The description of a noyse of instruments suggests that louder instruments such as sackbuts and cornetts were chosen, because they were more likely to be heard at distance and above ambient noise.
For Mary I in 1553, [b]oys of St. Paul’s school sang diverse staves in gratifying the Queen (Edwards 127). In King James I’s entrance into London he went to the Court Royall, [t]hrough the windows of which he might behold the Cathedral Temple of Saint Paule: upon whose lower batelments an Anthem was sung, by the Quiristers of the church to the music of loud instruments (Dekker H1r).
Dekker’s Troia-Noua Triumphans has the second Land-Triumph in the churchyard (Troia-Nova Triumphans B2r). In Thomas Middleton’s The Triumphs of Truth, the tableau which had been first seen on water was transferred to St. Paul’s Churchyard, where ſtand ready the fiue Ilands, thoſe dumb Glories that I ſpake of before vpon the water; vpon the heighth of theſe fiue Ilands ſit fiue perſons repreſenting the fiue Sences, Viſus, Auditus, Tactus, Guſtus, Olfactus (or) Seeing, Hearing, Touching, Taſting, Smelling; at their feet their proper Emblemes, Aquila, Ceruus, Araneus, Simia, Canis, an Eagle, a Hart, a Spider, an Ape, a Dogge (Middleton B4r). Munday’s Chryſanaleia also presented a tableau in the churchyard:
Our next deuice, before it be marſhalled in due ranke and order, is a goodly Bower, ſhaped in forme of a flowrie Arbour, and adorned with all the Scutchions of Armes of ſo many worthy men, as haue beene Lord Maiors of the Fiſhmongers Company, and each mans name truely ſet downe on them. It is appointed firſt to ſtand in Paules Church-yard: And at ſuch a place as is thoght moſt conuenient. In this Bower is a faire Tombe, where on, in Armour lyeth the imaginary body of Sir William Walworth, ſometime twiſe Lord Maior of London, and a famous Brother of the Fiſhmongers Company. The reaſon of this conceit, aimeth at that tempeſtuous and troubleſome time of King Richard the Second, and the fourth yeare of his Raigne, whoſe life, Crowne and Dignitie (next vn- der Gods omnipotent power) were manfully defen- ded and preſerued, by that worthy man Walworth.
(Munday B2v)
References are made to St. Paul’s Churchyard in various plays and poems, such as Heywood’s If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody, Part 2:
Nay ſtay good Iohn, thou knowſt my dwelling Iohn?
In Powles Church-yard Sir.
(Heywood 1.3.582-583)
The churchyard is also mentioned in The Staple of News, by Ben Jonson:
Cymbal. True Paul’s bred, I’the Churchyard.
P. Junior. [Indicating Tom]. And this at the West Door, O’th’other side.
(Jonson 1.5.122b-124a)
Isabella Whitney’s Wyll and Testament makes reference to one of the main activities of the churchyard, book selling:
To all the bookbinders by Paul’s,
because I like their art,
They every week shall money have
when they from books depart
(Whitney lines 229-232)
Book publishing and selling was a feature of the churchyard from the 14th century, and this increased when the old buildings were sold off by Henry VIII. It was a thriving, bustling place, with numerous businesses publishing and selling a range of texts. These businesses were often distinguished from one another by geographical details, so that, for example, Pricke is to be found at the sign of the Golden Ball from 1677 to 1685 (Plomer 244). Publisher details can also give us an idea of where premises are shared, or where they are bought by others or passed on: Humphrey Moseley is at the Princes’ Arms from 1630 to 1661 (Plomer 132); Nevill Simmons is there after 1655 (Plomer 164). Because many of the people who bought or rented the properties were evangelical Protestants, it became an area known for its religious publications. After the fire, many booksellers moved out into Paternoster Row, although there was still publishing activity into the 1800s.


Cite this page

MLA citation

Ainsworth, Sarah-Jayne, and Kate LeBere. St. Paul’s Churchyard The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 6.6, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 30 Jun. 2021,

Chicago citation

Ainsworth, Sarah-Jayne, and Kate LeBere. St. Paul’s Churchyard The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 6.6. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed June 30, 2021.

APA citation

Ainsworth, S., & LeBere, K. 2021. St. Paul’s Churchyard In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London (Edition 6.6). Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from

RIS file (for RefMan, RefWorks, EndNote etc.)

Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
Content: text/plain; charset="utf-8"

A1  - Ainsworth, Sarah-Jayne
A1  - LeBere, Kate
ED  - Jenstad, Janelle
T1  - St. Paul’s Churchyard
T2  - The Map of Early Modern London
ET  - 6.6
PY  - 2021
DA  - 2021/06/30
CY  - Victoria
PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
UR  -
UR  -
ER  - 

TEI citation

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