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But yet in the practical working out of this conception ; in the building
of the columns of the stone octagon ; in the insertion of the windows ; the
carrying up of the walls to the height of the tabulatum where he left off ;
there would have been no special difficulties to the craftsmen of the 14th

And so also with regard to the Lantern. The honour and glory of it
would lie in the inspiration of the idea of raising aloft a wooden building
resting on no direct visible supports on the ground, but formed through the
contraction of an irregular octagon, 70 feet in diameter, until it was reduced
to an octagon of equal sides having a diameter of only 30 feet.

It H

It ]~ 1 w 1 ■

Section of Ely Dome and Lantern.
From Bentham's ELY, plate XLIV.

(Roff Qto. vu 41

This magnificent idea, developing also a special grace in the unequal
sides of the vaulting of the dome, once begotten in the brain and con-
veyed to paper, would not in the setting up of the necessary timbers be a
very heavy tax on the experienced carpenters of that day.

An eminent architect and chronicler of the works of Cathedral Builders
has lately written : " Walsingham's dome is really a development of the
wood vaulting of York Chapter House, combined with the common con-
struction of the Monastery kitchens and their central ventilators. There
were certainly carpenters about, to whom the Sacrist could confide the
construction of his idea of an octagon Lantern 1 ."

It is interesting also to notice how Essex, the architect employed
in 1757 to report on the condition of the Lantern, seems to have been
struck with the fewness of the timbers employed to sustain so great a

" The prodigious quantity of timber and lead of which it is composed,"
he wrote, " was at first supported by sixteen pieces of timber only ; of
which number seven or eight are now rotten and unfit for supports ; so
that the whole weight is now unequally supported by those that remain
sound 2 ."

The erection of the wooden octagon, it should also be noticed, would
have been rendered the more easy by the circumstance of its not having
been built on the top of the walls of the stone octagon, but sunk down
within the octagon itself. So that the vertical timbers which formed the
eight-sided mouth of the great dome were encompassed round about by a
wall 18 feet high; which wall, with its eight sides, offered shelter and
support to the timbers which were gradually forming the Lantern both above
and below the level of the curbs.

A second advantage favouring the labours of the carpenters commencing
work in 1328, would have arisen from their having inherited, and entered
into possession of, the huge scaffolding which had gradually been built up
during the growth of the stonework to the tabulatum with which the walls
terminated. Such a scaffolding running round the stone octagon in the
inside must have greatly facilitated the setting and securing the Lantern

Thus may it seem within the power of the army of workmen under the
Sacrist's command to have made a considerable advance in the wooden »
octagon between 1328 and 1334; while all, who are interested in Alan's
great work, may in some degree be able to grasp the idea that a timber
building seemingly in the air, and having no direct visible support on the
ground 94 feet below, may yet have been sustained in extraordinary

1 The Cathedral Builders in England, by E. S. Prior, p. 75.

2 British Museum MSS. Additional 5842, pp. 345— 348. Essex's Survey, July 1757.

42 (gtoff (Ho* t>U

rigidity by a system of struts fixed up and down in a surrounding wall,
aided by cross beams, necessary for a belfry and a roof.

It is this system of rigidity attained by interframed timbers which seems
to help us to understand how it was that the great structure, which Essex
found to have lost seven or eight supports out of sixteen, had not utterly
collapsed. And it is scarcely competent for any to-day to assert that the
great angle posts had been omitted from this framework until six years had
elapsed from its commencement ; except, indeed, the Sacrist himself had
given us this information. This, however, he has not done, for in the
place of his words " some great posts," it is not fitting to substitute other
words " eight great angle posts of the wooden octagon."

But in the cause of truth it is necessary also to enter a caveat against
the substitution of this expression " the wooden octagon " for the Sacrist's
words which run thus : " To raise great posts in the new choir."

This thrusting out of written words in old documents and the interpola-
tion of others, is not only very illogical but also must undermine all confi-
dence in the value of the entries we find in them. It is more reasonable
and modest to attribute to Alan of Walsingham a fair understanding of what
he was doing and where he was working, and to open our minds to the
possibility that new forms of words in his entries may have been used
because a new thing was in the writer's mind.

Instead, then, of rejecting "in nouo choro" out of this memorandum
and rectifying it by " in the wooden octagon," may we not first set ourselves
to enquire, whether it was indeed quite impossible that the carpenters
mentioned there may have been required somewhere, in some place, to
which the words " nouus chorus " might have been applicable ?

The word choir, in its most technical and perhaps its most correct
sense, must be the Ritual Choir. The dictionaries define it thus : "Chorus
— Pars Ecclesie in qua clerus consistit et canit."

In that technical and limited sense the Sacrist could scarcely have used
the word in the year 1335, when this Roll was written. Certainly the fabric
of platforms, seats and stalls with carved canopies, in which the monks
had been accustomed to assemble, had, with the exception of a portion at
the west end, been swept away in the catastrophe of 1322. Nevertheless
the choir-place still remained ; the marks of its position might still be
visible on the floor, and the elder monks, treading on its site with
reverence, might speak of it as the choir ; and so also when the dome, or
vault, above it, which was practically its ceiling, was completed, and its
wooden arches decorated with colour, the whole, floor and vault, forming a
single building, would be naturally united by them in a single name — " the
new choir."

(goff Qto. pi. 43

And yet further again, to the eastward of the great octagon dome, there
had been rising up another building, not less striking in its beauty, which
had a legitimate claim to be called "the new choir."

From the first erection of the Norman Church of the 12th century,
there had ever stood an Altar, west of the great Altar and the shrine of St
Etheldreda, which even to Alan's time had changed neither its name nor
its position; it was ever the "Altar of St Peter," and the "Altare in

When Bishop John de Fonlibus secured to the Chapter a benefaction
by which three candles were to be kept continually lighted in the Church,
he ordered that " two of them should be placed before the body of
St Etheldreda, and the third in the choir before the Altar of St Peter."

Bishop Geoffrey de Burgh, who died in 1223, is said by the historians
to have been buried "ex parte boreali chori."

Bishop John de Kirkby, in 1290, was buried — "Coram cruce ex parte
boreali chori." And when Bishop John de Hotham was laid to his rest at
the spot which he himself had marked out in his lifetime, the position is
thus noted in the MSS : " Ad partem orientalem Altaris in choro versus
magnum Altare."

And, in the older days, the Church writers, in speaking of the more
sacred parts of their Church which lay to the east of the great arch,
naturally, though not with absolute correctness, applied to it the term —
"the choir."

Very wide, therefore, was the area which might have been embraced in
the Sacrist's thought, when he entered in the 6th Roll his memorandum
concerning work allotted to the eight carpenters "in nouo choro."

And who, in these days, can venture to assert that he used those words
in error?

Moreover a wider outlook over the life of the community of which the
Sacrist was but the executive, may supply a thought, why in this year 1335
the expression " in nouo choro " should have had a place in Alan's Roll.

Thirteen years had passed since, in the crash of the fallen tower, the
ritual choir had disappeared ; and though, at the first, designs for new
buildings of surpassing beauty would captivate the minds of the brethren,
yet as the larger undertaking brought year by year new delays, hope
deferred would do its usual work, and the desire would develop an
agitation in the cloisters that at the first opportunity the ritual choir should
be reinstated in the Church.

Some such stir had apparently taken place in Canterbury Cathedral a
century and a half before, when after the destruction of the ritual choir and

44 (goff (&♦ VU

a large portion of the Church by fire, the monks had to sing their daily
services in the nave.

"As the spring of the sixth year," wrote Gervase the Sacrist, "was
coming on, and the time for work was advancing, the monks, with hearts
heated by desire, took up the preparation of the choir that at the next
Easter they might enter there " — and he adds " the community was cast
out by the fire from the cloister, as Adam was cast out of Paradise, in the
year of the word of God 1174 ; — and they returned into the new choir at
nine o'clock on the vigil of Easter in the year of grace 1180 1 ."

When not only six, but twice six, years had rolled by and found the
monks of Ely still without their ritual choir, would they not daily have
watched the progress of the Sacrist's work, and have enquired one of
another, at each advance, Is not the new choir now to be taken in hand?

And this thought has its rise not in pure imagination, but in writings
left by other officers of the Ely Priory. They are not of this year, but of
the next and subsequent years. For the year 1335 — 1336, J. de Orwelle
and B. de Fressingfield were treasurers for the Prior and Convent ; and in
their accounts we find they paid out for the new fabric of the choir for
three convocations of the Prior, 100 shillings, and under the same date the
Cellarer paid to Ralph of Saxmundham for three assemblies of the com-
munity the sum of 60 shillings.

The variety in the language used in the two entries is harmonized and
explained in a third extract, taken from the Roll of the Camerarius in the
following year — " paid to R. of Saxmundham for the stalls, 13^. 4^."

Of Saxmundham and his sudden appearance in a position of special
authority in the Monastery, further mention will be made in the Notes on
Roll viii. ; but we may not here omit to notice that the interval between the
presentation by the Sacrist of his accounts which are in this Roll vi., and the
decision of the brethren to proceed to gather funds for the new choir, must
have been very brief; but whether the Sacrist's advance in his work had
first stirred the idea, or whether the impetus had come from the whole
community, we cannot resist the impression that the words in this Roll
" in nouo choro " were not written thoughtlessly or without meaning.

Leaving, however, this subject to be taken up again when it recurs in
Roll vii., we must return to an entry in almost the last paragraph of
Roll vi., which will require a short digression to establish its importance to
the Sacrist and his great work.

" A fee to Master William de Hurle, carpenter, per ann. ^viii." The
description of this man as a master carpenter and the amount paid to him

1 Cf. Gervase of Canterbury, vol. i. p. 24, Rolls Series, Stubbs.

(Roff QXo. vu 45

for the year, leads us to desire some information concerning both his earlier
history and the position which he assumed at Ely. Whether, if the Sacrist
Rolls for the preceding years had been forthcoming, we should have found
similar entries asserting Hurle's presence at the Cathedral, we are altogether
without clue ; but in the next extant Compotus (our Roll vii.), which is two
years later in date, we have precisely the same entry repeated at the close
of the expenses of the " nouum opus," " A fee to Master William of Hurle,
carpenter, per ann. £8." We seem drawn, therefore, to the conclusion that
this master carpenter was being entrusted by the Sacrist with some definite
and continuous authority in the building which was then going forward in
the Cathedral.

In the earlier phases of the reconstruction of the central tower we have
observed our Ely Sacrist not hesitating to invite advice from London ; and
although we have no knowledge whether the master of the masons or the
master of the carpenters, who appeared then to help Alan, came from the
metropolis, it is certain that they had not hitherto belonged to his Ely staff
of workmen.

And William of Hurle, we seem forced by contemporary evidence to
believe, was invited to Ely on account of engagements he had been
fulfilling in the important works then being carried on by the King, at
Westminster, at the Tower of London, and at Windsor.

Fortunately the building Rolls of those great undertakings have been
preserved in the London Record Office, and in them we have interesting
glimpses, from time to time, of the character of the operations in which
William of Hurle had been engaged, and of the reputation which he had
won by years of steady labour in the King's service.

For in the record of the buildings undertaken by Edward the 3rd in the
earlier half of the 14th century, there is no Magister Carpentarius on whom
the Royal favour descended more richly than on William of Hurle l . He is

1 These parchments and papers, after lying unnoticed for centuries in the Record
Office, were discovered by the zeal and perseverance of Mr Smith at the beginning of
last century, and in part published by him in 1807, in his valuable work " The
Antiquities of Westminster."

Shortly afterwards Mr Stevenson, in his " Appendix to Bentham's History of
Ely," drew from Mr Smith's work not only illustrations of the terms used by Alan
of Walsingham's scribes in the Rolls which relate to the building of the octagon and
lantern, but made the suggestion that the same workmen were employed at Ely and
on the London works, giving the names of three as examples. They were — Simon
of Lenne, master glazier ; Thomas Shanks, painter ; and William of Hurle, master

Lastly, in 1906, Mr W. Lethaby, in his interesting work "Westminster Abbey
and the King's Craftsmen " (published by Duckworth and Co.), has, with increased
knowledge, thrown further light on the same subject.

46 QRoff (Jt© # t>n

first mentioned in 1323 as a master carpenter; and in 1336 by the King's
warrant, in which the master mason, William of Ramseye, was made his
" capitalis cementarius " over all works at the Tower of London, and over
all royal castles on this side the Trent, William of Hurle was appointed
" capitalis carpentarius " in exactly the same manner, with the same
authority, " mutatis mutandis," receiving each year a robe suitable to
his condition, and a shilling a day from the Exchequer.

It was this honourable craftsman who appears first in Roll vi. — between
Mich. 1334 and Mich. 1335.

We may not indeed anticipate that a Magister Carpentarius, possessing
such a status in the King's employment, would leave the metropolis and
take up a permanent residence in Ely. His assistance at the provincial
Cathedral could only be given, as a modern architect gives his professional
services, by occasional visits, by designs and by supervision of contracts 1 ,
and so we do not find that Hurle had any house assigned him in Ely, at
least at first ; neither robe, nor " furura " ; and the arge fee paid to him of
j£S, equivalent perhaps to ^160 of money at its present value, may have
covered good service done by him to Ely, by securing for the Sacrist other
superior London craftsmen who had been employed there, with or under
him 2 . The Sacrist was apparently put to some straits to raise this large sum
for Master William's feodum ; for on each of the two occasions in which that
item appears in the " cost of the new work " there is a memorandum at the
close of the receipts for the year, that he had been obliged to have recourse
to funds outside his ordinary income. " Received for the new work from
John of Huntingdon for the rents of the town, in part payment of the fee
for Master William the carpenter, £2. 14^. od. 3 "

And here again we have the advantage of another of those notes
or meras. by which Alan of Walsingham was accustomed to represent

1 In the autumn of 1336, William de Hurle is mentioned as witnessing contracts for
works done in London, " ad Tascham," by piece work ; and in Nov. of that year,
as engaged in building a house for himself near the Tower of London, letting the
work out by contract to one Roger of Langley. Exchequer Accounts, Works K.R.
470, No. 1.

2 In Roll viii. p. 98, in close conjunction with Hurle's name, two carpenters are
employed at Ely who, we may believe, were brought from London by him. The
one is John Ferynge who, by the Exchequer Accounts, Works K.R. 483, No. 3, was
working under William de Hurle ; and who, in 469, No. 3, was again in his
company; and was one of eleven carpenters " de familia Regis"; and again also in
470, No. 11.

John Roke, who was carving a key on the upper vault of the new Campanile, is
probably the John Roke who is mentioned as working in London in the Exchequer
Accounts, K.R. 468, No. 10.

3 Transcripts Roll vi., p. 75, and Roll vii., p. 86.

QJoff Qto. x>i. 47

expenses thrown on the office which should really have been debited to
some other account. In one sentence he groups the expenses of monks
and parishioners meeting for making wax, together with the usual autumn
expenses of his servants ; and in the middle of the paragraph he inserts
charges for Master William the carpenter and divers strangers called
together at different times for the work of the office 1 . Here we have
a clear sketch of the Sacrist in conference with the great master carpenter
and with divers strangers about the work going forward under his authority
and inspection.

Turning next to enquire whether a Magister Cementarius of equal
fame and calibre with Hurle, the King's carpentarius capitalis, was
employed at this time in Ely, we notice in this Roll vi. which follows
the great hiatus, that we hear no more of Magister John the mason,
who was working on the Church in Rolls hi., iv. and v. (who, we
suggested, might have belonged to the celebrated family of the Ramseys).
Perhaps he died in the interval of eight years, perhaps he found engrossing
occupation elsewhere, but in his place there comes to the front another
mason, not apparently at first a master mason, but attaining that dis-
tinction after some years.

This mason, likewise a John, appears at once in the sixth Roll with a
surname Attegrene, which suggests that he was born in some neighbour-
hood where there was a green or common, and it may be that he was a
native of Ely, and perhaps of that part of the waste of the Bishop of Ely's
Manor, which lay on the west end of the Cathedral, and from which Bishop
Northwold's foundation of priests took its name "the Chantry on the

In this Roll vi. Attegrene is not presented to us as working on the
Cathedral but on the Noua Camera, which Alan of Walsingham was then
building in the Infirmary, and he receives his robe, not in the section
allotted to the " nouum opus," but in the expenses of the Camera. Two
years later he is mentioned three times as engaged on the new Campanile,
but even then the title of master mason is not accorded to him. It is in
Roll viii. (1339 — 40), that is, five years after the first mention of him,
that he is called Magister Cementarius.

1 "In expensis...Magistri Willielmi Carpentarii et diuersorum extraneorum conuoca-
torum per vices pro negociis officii." Roll vi. , p. 65 ; see also pp. 77, 88.

48 QRoff Qto. x>u

The accounts for the year Michs. 1334 to Michs. 1335 are as follows :

Expenses of the Sacristy including arrears ... 233 9 8|
" Nouum opus " ...
Purchase of the Brame Estate
The Noua Camera

Total Receipts

Adverse balance at end of year ... ... ... 201 17 9

The length of the Roll is 7 ft. 10 inches.

On the chief side commence the expenses, followed by the " nouum

In dorso are the receipts ; modern paper has been, at some
period, pasted over the whole of that side, as in other Rolls, but in
Roll vi. the deciphering of the letters through the paper is especially










5 2 9



3 2 7






(&fan of ^WaMn^am, Sacrist from Michs. 1336
to Michs. 1337.

For the year Michs. 1335 — 1336, the Compotus Roll of
the Sacrist has not been preserved.

In the fourth month of the chapter year 1336 — 1337 an event took
place which sadly disturbed the life of the Ely monastery, bringing distress
to the whole community and more than one subject of annoyance to Alan
the Sacrist.

On the 15th of January 1337, Bishop John of Hotham passed to his
rest ; and although after receipt of the King's authority to the Convent to
elect a new Bishop, John of Crauden, Prior, had been unanimously chosen,
the Sovereign and the Pope agreed in the translation of Simon of Monta-
cute from the Bishopric of Worcester to the see of Ely.

Alan had himself been deputed by the brethren to solicit from the
King the Conge d'elire 1 ; but we know not whether he was personally
grieved at the failure of the monks to secure the great office for the head
of the Priory. Shortly after the appointment of Bishop de Montacute, he
again took a journey to London, urged by fear lest, under a new Bishop,
the peculiar jurisdiction which he exercised in the city of Ely and the
neighbourhood by virtue of his office as Sacrist of the Monastery, should

l In expensis Domini [Sacriste] apud London pro licencia petenda a Domino Rege
elegendi Episcopum. Transcripts, p. 81.

C. VOL. I. 4

so ©off (tto + p{i #

be endangered : and thus he enters the cost of his London visit : " For
the expenses of the Lord [Sacrist] in London, to treat with the Lord
Bishop and the Archdeacon for the preservation of his jurisdiction 1 ."

A further source of anxiety would also be disturbing the Sacrist's mind,
concerning the building still proceeding in the Church. His own work in
the Tower, and Bishop Hotham's work on the three eastward bays, had
been going on for years in harmony, owing to .the good feeling and
sympathy existing between the two authorities, but when the kindly and
generous prelate was no more with them, would this same happy coalition
continue ?

For nearly two years before his death, Bishop Hotham, struck by
paralysis, had retired from all duties, handing over his authority ecclesiasti-
cal and secular to two clergymen nominated by him as coadjutors 2 . They
were, Master Alan of Hotham, Rector of Dereham, Canon of St Paul's,
London, and the Bishop's own nephew ; and Master Nicholas of Stockton,
Rector of Tydd. These two were, by the Bishop's will, appointed also his
executors, together with Sir Simon de Drayton, Knight.

How early in the time of the Bishop's illness signs of disagreement had
appeared between the coadjutors and the Sacrist, we know not, but the
rapidity with which the legal proceedings were commenced against the
executors, shews that the Sacrist and the Convent had formulated their
claims very soon after the Bishop's death.

" Paid to Master Will. Winelingham for his expenses and labour in
obtaining a citation under the seal of the Archbishop to cite the executors
of the late Bishop " (p. 82).

The origin of this unfortunate lawsuit, which continued four years, does
not transpire in the Sacrist's Rolls ; but we may conjecture that it grew out
of uncertainties touching the reconstruction of the Octagon and the three
eastern bays, which had been assigned severally to the Sacrist and the

Unless an exact line had been drawn as to where and when the
work of each in his separate building was to end, when the whole was
drawing to completion and the Bishop's place was filled by trustees, bound
to the wording of a document and not able to yield to impulses of
generosity, divergent views might easily lead to a formal rupture. It is
noticeable that among the persons receiving letters on this subject, John
Attegrene the carpenter is mentioned by name, probably a witness called

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