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Works Thomas Girtin

London: The Leathersellers’ Hall

(?) 1799

Primary Image: TG1410: Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), London: The Leathersellers’ Hall, (?) 1799, graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper, 40.8 × 57.6 cm, 16 ⅛ × 22 ⅝ in. British Museum, London (G,7.213).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • London: The Leathersellers’ Hall
(?) 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on wove paper
40.8 × 57.6 cm, 16 ⅛ × 22 ⅝ in
Object Type
On-the-spot Colour Sketch
Subject Terms
London Architecture; Urban Ruins

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
151 as 'Leathersellers’ Hall ... unfinished', '1796'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


John Charles Crowle (1738–1811); bequeathed as part of the fourteen volume set of Thomas Pennant's Some Account of London (3rd edn.), 1811


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.108

About this Work

This large-scale sketch of the exterior of the Leathersellers’ Hall in London is one of two views of the building that were acquired by John Charles Crowle (1738–1811) after Girtin’s death (the other being TG1411). The interior view of the hall shows the building stripped of its sixteenth-century fittings immediately prior to its demolition in 1799. Though Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak thought that this less worked, on-the-spot sketch dated from earlier than the other view purchased by Crowle, I suspect that it was the imminent destruction of the building that occasioned its production as well (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.154). What appear to be ladders are shown to the right of the drawing, and, as with the interior view, Girtin was presumably working against the clock to record a historic building before it disappeared, and it is unlikely that he would have gone to all the trouble of working on such a large scale, and with so much detail, without a reasonable expectation of orders for finished watercolours. These were most likely to come from the type of antiquarian patron that he had worked for early in his career, since the Leathersellers’ Hall was actually built within the dormitory of the ancient Benedictine nunnery attached to the church of St Helen Bishopsgate, and its impending destruction, not surprisingly, caused considerable controversy in those circles, not least because the process revealed a fine medieval vaulted undercroft that was also soon to be razed (see TG1411 figure 1). Chief amongst the critics of the removal of the hall – on the grounds that it was ‘too ruinous and expensive for repair’ – was James Peller Malcolm (1767–1815), and it is his print that illustrates the relationship between the church of St Helen and the part of the exterior of the hall depicted by Girtin (see figure 1) (Malcolm, 1802–7, vol.3, p.562). The hall, which is seen in Malcolm’s view parallel to the church’s west front, is entered from an ornate porch at the top of a flight of steps, and it is this feature that Girtin concentrates on, using a brush and ink to pick out the architectural details and to record the shadows cast by the afternoon sun.

St Helen's Church and the Leatherseller's Hall, London

No commission for a watercolour of this view seems to have been forthcoming, however, unlike the rather more dramatic interior view of the half-ruined hall. Although very different in terms of their original function, the sketch and the finished watercolour were to be reunited when they were acquired by Crowle, who used them both as extra-illustrations to his multi-volume copy of Thomas Pennant’s (1726–98) Some Account of London (Pennant, 1793). The sketch is interleaved, together with four prints of the hall, into volume twelve of the rebound text from the 1793 edition – that is, from before the building’s destruction. 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 (Adams, 1982, pp.123–39). Girtin’s sketch, which is actually one of the largest he ever executed, did not quite fit into the outsized volumes, however, and it had to be folded, with the unfortunate consequence seen here.

(?) 1799

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


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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