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Works Thomas Girtin

London: The Interior of the Ruins of the Leathersellers’ Hall

(?) 1799

Primary Image: TG1411: Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), London: The Interior of the Ruins of the Leathersellers’ Hall, (?) 1799, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, on a later mount, 44.7 × 61.2 cm, 17 ⅝ × 24 ⅛ in. British Museum, London (G,12.183).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • London: The Interior of the Ruins of the Leathersellers’ Hall
(?) 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, on a later mount
44.7 × 61.2 cm, 17 ⅝ × 24 ⅛ in

'Leather Sellers Hall over the Crypt of St. Helens Monastery - ' on the mount, by John Charles Crowle; 'T. Girtin delt.' on the mount, lower right, by John Charles Crowle

Object Type
Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
London Architecture; Monastic Ruins

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
282 as 'Leathersellers Hall'; '1798–9'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2018


Thomas Girtin (1775–1802); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 1 June 1803, lot 122 as 'Leathersellers’ Hall, Bishopsgate Street, before it was pulled down', £5 10s; John Charles Crowle (1738–1811); bequeathed as part of the fourteen volume set of Thomas Pennant's Some Account of London (3rd edn.), 1811

Exhibition History

London, 2002, no.69


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.107 as 'Leather Sellers' Hall, Over the Crypt of St. Helen's Monastery'; Davies, 1924, pl.24

About this Work

William Wise (active 1798–1825), after William Capon (1757–1827), etching and engraving, 'The Crypt of the Nunnery of St. Helen in Bishopsgate Street' for <i>Londina Illustrata</i>, pl.30, October 1817, 25.6 × 32.2 cm, 10 ⅛ × 12 ⅝ in. British Museum, London (Ee,6.5).

This unusual view of the partially demolished interior of the sixteenth-century Leathersellers’ Hall was acquired by John Charles Crowle (1738–1811) after Girtin’s death, together with a sketch of the exterior of the building (TG1410). The guild of Leathersellers had decided to demolish their dining hall in order to rebuild it nearby, and, prior to its final demolition in 1799, the auctioneer, a ‘Mr Edwards’, stripped the building of its fittings and announced their sale in the press on 14 March, adding that the ‘Curious may have an Opportunity of viewing it before it is pulled down’; this is essentially what we see in Girtin’s view. Well-dressed men and women take one final look, and an artist makes a sketch of a detail of the architecture before the building is swept away. The loss of the hall, with its fine plaster work and panelling, was not the point that most concerned critics of the move, however, for the process had also revealed the existence of a fine thirteenth-century vaulted undercroft, part of the ancient Benedictine nunnery attached to the church of St Helen Bishopsgate (see figure 1). The Leathersellers had bought the site of the nunnery in the sixteenth century and built their hall into the fabric of the dormitory, and for antiquarians such as the author James Peller Malcolm (1767–1815) their decision to demolish another one of the capital’s ancient monuments was cause for much anger. Malcolm bemoaned at length the fate of a ‘beautiful work’, and he recalled the ‘regret with which I saw those slender pillars torn from their bases, and the strong, though delicate, arches sundered in masses’ (Malcolm, 1802–7, vol.3, p.563). It is precisely this detail that the artist, seated in the deep gloom of the undercroft, seeks to record with time running out and the eighteenth-century equivalent of the wrecking ball, a dramatically placed ladder, poised and ready.

The drawing was bought by Crowle at Girtin’s posthumous sale for £5 10s, where it was titled ‘Leathersellers’ Hall, Bishopsgate Street, before it was pulled down’ (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 1 June 1803, lot 122). Girtin had presumably failed to find a purchaser for his watercolour, though it seems he had more success with another, untraced version, which was exhibited after his death as ‘Ancient Crypt of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate’ (Exhibitions: London, 1823, no.17*). Crowle’s other view of the hall by Girtin, showing the exterior, is an on-the-spot sketch, but the collector was also willing to pay good money for a studio work, and this is of particular interest because it was not acquired to be framed for display on the wall but was used instead as an illustration for a multi-volume copy of Thomas Pennant’s (1726–98) Some Account of London (Pennant, 1793). In all, Crowle assembled over three thousand images of the city’s topography, as well as of the people and historical events associated with it, binding them into fourteen folio volumes, which were bequeathed to the British Museum in 1811 (Adams, 1982, pp.123–39). This watercolour is interleaved into volume twelve of the rebound text from the 1793 edition – that is, from a date before the building’s destruction – though it does not actually relate to Pennant’s text on the nunnery of St Helen’s, which is found in volume seven, where the exterior view is located. The practice of grangerising, as the addition of extra-illustrations to texts was known, was a popular pastime at this date, but few had the means to buy the finished works of celebrated artists and then use them in such an arbitrary, indeed cavalier, way.

(?) 1799

London: The Leathersellers’ Hall


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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