Under the threat of attack from the air, some of the treasures of London were hidden from view behind sandbags. At the British Museum, those artifacts that could not be moved to safety after the galleries were closed to the public were protected, as we have seen. At Charing Cross, the statue of Charles I was hidden behind wooden hoardings and sandbags. At St Bartholomew’s Church in Smithfield, the tomb of the church’s founder Rahere was also covered with sandbags.
Unlike most London landmarks, though, St Bart’s really did come close to destruction. On 8 September 1915, the largest bomb yet dropped on London fell from Zeppelin L13 on Batholomew’s Close. The 660lb bomb caused an enormous amount of damage, creating a hole eight feet deep, gutting a local printworks, smashing shopfronts and shattering windows. A fountain in the close was virtually split in two. One curious effect of the blast was that it revealed the timber-framed gateway to the courtyard of St Bart’s church. Thankfully it missed the nearby hospital and the soldiers being treated there.
Rahere founded the church and hospital in the early twelfth century after a vision of St Bartholomew instructed him to. The site was on the King’s land, so Rahere had to win the favour of King Henry I, which he managed to do despite being discouraged by the London barons. Rahere was often portrayed as the king’s jester or minstrel in later years, but remained prior of St Bartholomew’s until his death. His effigy was installed in the church in the early fifteenth century, where it has remained to this day – despite the danger of time, the puritans, and two world wars.
Ian Castle – London 1914-17, the Zeppelin Menace
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Michael McDonagh – In London during the Great War