The Church of Little St Hugh and its “Heretic’s Library”

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The (former) Church of Little St Hugh, a partly Hawksmoor-designed church. (Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_John_Horsleydown)

A resource for Bookhounds of London, by James Haughton and Bret Kramer 

Just off Charterhouse Street in Smithfield is a vacant lot adjacent to the newly built power station. There are the charred remains of a slate floor, a few cracked sandstone blocks, and a wrought iron plaque stating “Here stood the Church of Little St. Hugh, destroyed by German aerial bombardment 8 September, 1915.” A little bit behind is a locked metal grate enclosing a narrow flight of stairs. Behind this locked grate is the Crypt…

The Church of Little St Hugh was once located in Smithfields on the north side of the city, next to the meat markets and slaughteryards. The site is quite ancient, having originally been a Templar chapel dedicated to St Bartholemew, attendant upon their tourney ground and stables. The crypt contains a number of Templar graves. Following the dissolution of the Templars it was turned over to the Knights Hospitallier, who rededicated it to Little St Hugh, and then passed to the Church of England during the English reformation. The church was burned down during the Great Fire of London and was rebuilt as part of the Wren/Hawksmoor/James building effort. Hawksmoor died before the church was completed, so it was completed by John James, leading to it frequently being left off lists of “Hawksmoor” churches.

On the 8th of September, 1915, shortly after the Reverend Poole (see below) had been appointed to the parish, the church was hit by a Zeppelin bomb and burned to the ground a second time, only the underground Templar Crypt surviving. The Church was not eager to rebuild the church because with the passage of time, the expansion of the slaughteryards and the construction of the City of London Power Station next door, the area had become industrial rather than residential and there were few people residing in the parish. Furthermore, antisemitism had become a bit déclassé in reformist Church circles, and a church based upon a Blood Libel was felt to send the wrong message. The site is now bare ground (the graves having been moved to the London Necropolis) with a plaque commemorating the bombing and a locked grille leading to the old crypt.

To Reverend Poole’s muted annoyance, the peculiar history of the church has led to “Rebuild Little St Hugh’s” being taken up as a cause by quasi-respectable pro-fascist elements in Society, as a way of being covertly anti-Jewish without being overtly pro-German.

The Crypt and the “Heretic’s Library”

The site’s interest to Bookhounds lies in the contents of the Crypt. Smithfield is the traditional execution ground for heretics and traitors, and so historically, a certain amount of the vicar of Little St Hugh’s income came from giving last rites to these unfortunates and often became the receiver of the deceased’s items (as means to pay for their services). Sadly, this source of income has dried up a bit in recent centuries. However, gifts from these (usually) men as payments in kind to the vicar included a fair number of books, often concerning their odd political and religious beliefs. Generations of criminals and heretics books were disposed of in this manner; for some reason, these books were kept rather than destroyed, possibly over a centuries old dispute over the division of moneys gained between the priest of Little St Hugh and the Archbishop of London. Over time, the deposition of heretical and treasonous publications in the Church of Little St Hugh became one of those things that are done because they have always been done. This impromptu library of the unorthodox, heretical, and quite possibly valuable was stored within the Crypt, and consequently escaped destruction in the bombing.

The books, which were being surreptitiously being catalogued when the church was destroyed, are in no particular order, beyond a rough one of size, with books of like size being kept together in one box for ease of storage. An index for the books does exist, kept by Rev. Poole in a vest pocket at all times. Sadly many books are in poor condition, centuries of enclosure in damp stone having taken their toll.

The Library of Little St Hugh acts as a 2 point pool for research into heresies and treasons in English history, if Reverend Poole’s assistance and/or index is used; 1 point otherwise owing to the difficulty of finding resources within it. Although many of the books possess little resale value as collectables owing to damage from damp and mildew, enough aged endpapers and partial copies survive to make them valuable to forgers and breakers, not to mention the odd modern heretic who may care less about condition than content.

Owing to its underground location and comforting smell of mould, the library is occasionally consulted by the more literary members of London’s Ghoul colony. The Reverend Poole remains desperately, resolutely, ignorant of this fact.

The Crypt: Physical description

The only surviving portion of the Church, the cruciform vaults beneath the old church were excavated during the time of Richard de Hastyngs (c. 1165) and used as a burial site for Templars in London until the construction of the new Temple, about 1185, and from time to time thereafter, though why burials continued is unclear. Within the vault, the air is cool and stale, a result of poor circulation. The low arched ceilings suggest most of the work dates from the 12th century with a few high Gothic touches added later. Walking is possible in the center of most aisles, but one should watch their heads to avoid injury.

To the north are the remaining Templar crypts, including several carved sarcophagi depicting the resident knights. To the west have been jumbled a mound of ‘important’ stones rescued from the ruins above, including several elaborate keystones, fragments of statuary, the hastily framed remains of several stained-glass windows, and, a worn Sheela-na-gig sits on one side. Some wag has placed a packet of Pall Mall within her stony cleft.

Occupying most of the east and south ends of the vault are stacked boxes containing the old library of the Church of Little Saint Hugh.

A few modern niceties break the gloom; there are an assortment of small oil lamps for which to provide light to readers who can make use of a small table and a mismatched set of wooden chairs. Atop the table are a variety of writing supplies, several half-empty biscuit tins, and a small camp stove topped by a tea kettle.

The Reverend Oliver Garrand Llewellyn Poole, poverty-stricken guardian of Little St Hugh

Occupation: Clergy (Church of England)
Drive: Ennui

Rev. Poole, as he is most generally known, is a drawn-looking man, probably in his early forties, with thinning blond-brown hair, always clad in a careworn black suit and clerical collar. He is the vicar to the (non-existent) congregation of the Church of Little St. Hugh, and the sexton of its (relocated) graveyard. Rev. Poole is responsible for the library, which he allows scholars to examine from time to time. As a result he has met a number of notable authors of esoterica, including Elliot O’Donnell, Margaret Murray, Dennis Wheatley, Rev. Montage Summers (whose claim to clerical status is even dodgier) and Augustus Darcy, whom he remembers was most unwilling to pick up the lunch tab. An air of fatigue surrounds him like a cloud of bees. He deflects any questions about why he remains the vicar of a non-existent church, hinting at family legacies, codecils and obligations. More probably, he fears that if the Church bureaucracy were to notice his existence, his meagre position would be abolished without a new one materialising.

Rev. Poole is most well-known (by those very few who know him) for his unique social habit, one borne from the necessity of having extraordinarily low wage. Normally parish vicars were paid for by their congregants. Lacking any, his income solely consists of his wages as the Sexton (less than £40 annually) and a hodgepodge of Medieval rights granted the Church in centuries past (including but not limited to as many fish as he can catch on the Fleet, a salted ox leg every Christmas, 3 inches of silver chain, a black rooster, and a pot of ink). To supplement this salary (he is apparently unwilling or unable to call upon his extended family, a well-to-do bunch from Kent) the Rev. Poole has become a serial club and society member, particularly those which provide lunch, gather over coffee, or even have a few tins of biscuits and tea. If there is a society, club, association, fanciers group, aficionado gathering, or league in or near the City (so long as its politics aren’t too extreme) Rev. Poole has attended a meeting, if not a regular attendee. Few question him, thanks to his position as a cleric (though a more than a few clubs know to hide the good edibles when he darkens the door), and he is generally regarded as harmless. In those groups where he has some actual interest (including astronomy and architecture) he is actually something approaching helpful. In any gathering, he is at least charming, even if his eyes never leave the refreshments table.

Bookhounds may be aware of his lesser-known talent regarding the procurement of small batches of blank paper, dated as per customer request, most likely taken from the Little St. Hugh library. On a handful of occasions he has provided “graveyard copies” of books from the Church library, in exchange for a cut of the sale, as well as plates from several “breakers” in the library… but only when his finances are very poor. He is, very rarely, a customer at the shop, often swapping something of his for a book. His tastes tend toward the physical sciences, history, and London architecture.

He lives in a mean cold-water flat in a building otherwise wholly populated by Indians and Arabs, causing him to sometimes given off the aroma of their sundry dubious cuisines and tobaccos.

Health 9
Sanity 10
Stability 10

ACADEMIC ABILITIES
Architecture 1
History 4
Languages 2
Library Use 2
Occult 2
Document Analysis 1
Theology 2

INTERPERSONAL ABILITIES
Assess Honesty 2
Credit Rating 2 (social standing only; he’s otherwise very poor) Treat this as Social CR 3, Monetary CR 1
Flattery 4
Reassurance 2

TECHNICAL ABILITIES
Astronomy 1

GENERAL ABILITIES
Auction 1 (I’ve been to a few.)
Conceal 4 (Nothing up my sleeve…)
Electrical Repair 1 (He has built a crystal radio.)
Filch 9 (Where did those biscuits go?)
Firearms 1 (Why yes, my father did like to hunt.)
First Aid 4 (Why yes, I was a terrible shot.)
Fleeing 5 (Run!)
Preparedness 3 (I do have a plumb bob, why do you ask?)
Psychoanalysis 3 (Tell me more…)
Riding 1 (And we had horses… vile creatures…)
Scuffling 2 (There were also older brothers.)
Sense Trouble 4 (He knew that enlisting in 1914 was a bad idea after all…)
Shadowing 2 (That chap has a bag simply full of sardine tins. After him!)
Stealth 2 (I swear that the vicar went into the pantry a moment ago…)

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