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The Collation

Pew-hopping in St. Margaret's Church

Manuscripts of unusual shapes and sizes are always fun to investigate, and we recently had the opportunity to reevaluate a particularly large and interesting one, a ca. 1600 “pew plan” written on a piece of parchment (Folger MS X.d.395), in preparation for the current exhibition, Open City: London, 1500-1700.

Plan of pews

Plan of pews and pewholders for St. Margaret’s, Westminster, ca. 1600 (click image for zoomable high-res version)

  1. See Kenneth Fincham and Nicholas Tyacke in Altars Restored: The Changing Face of English Religious Worship, 1547-c 1700, Oxford, 2007). We are grateful that Professor Fincham brought the plot to our attention in conversations about the exhibition.
  2. For discussion of pew regulations and their reflection of social order at St. Margaret’s in the 1590s, see J. F. Merritt, The Social History of Early Modern Westminster (Manchester, 2005, pp. 221-23).
  3. These accounts are now at Westminster Archive Centre. We consulted H. F. Westlake’s excerpts from them, in St Margaret’s Westminster (London, 1914).
  4. Margaret Aston, “Segregation in Church,” Studies in Church History 27 [1990]). On the social and moral dynamics that pew charts may represent, see also Christopher Marsh, “Order and Place in England, 1580-1640: The View from the Pew,” Journal of British Studies 44 (2005), p. 3-26.


[…] the traces left behind are not of things, but of people and institutions. In “Pew-hopping in St Margaret’s Church,” from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s The Collation,1 Heather Wolfe (Curator of […]

carnivalesque 86 » Wynken de Worde — June 23, 2012

Thank you for the scan. My husband’s ancestors, Thomas Whitney and John Bray, were members of St. Margaret’s during the time of this document. Have you been able to transcribe the names? I am not sure if I located them or not, but I am very grateful to see the document.

John Bray, a taylor, was churchwarden of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, in 1554-1556. Margaret Haslonde Bray, wife of John Bray and mother of Mary Bray Whitney, was buried at St. Margaret’s, 28 March 1588. John Bray died in 1615. His daughter, Mary, married Thomas Whitney, gentleman of Lambeth Marsh, 10 May 1583, at St. Margaret’s. Their children were all baptized at St. Margaret’s. Two of their children were named after St. Margaret’s parishioners: Arneway and Nowell.

These folks are the ancestors of the Whitney family in America. I have a lot of information, but this is an abbreviated narrative.

I look forward to seeing more information being posted. Thanks again!

Valerie — November 12, 2012

Hi, Valerie – I just discovered your post. Would love to know what sort of information you have uncovered about the Whitney family! I am a descendent of John Whitney, the 5th child of Thomas and Mary (Bray) Whitney. As I am sure you know, John sailed across the Atlantic with his wife, Elinor, in 1635 and settled in Watertown, MA. It’s all been quite fascinating to learn about! My father descends from John’s son, Benjamin.

Elizabeth — April 26, 2016

Hi, Elizabeth,
I sincerely apologize that I just saw your email of April 2016. My husband descends from John and Elinor’s son John. I have compiled a bit of information on the Whitneys. Have you viewed the Whitney Research Group website? There are some interesting posts there. I have not gotten past Thomas Whitney, John’s father, though. You can access digital scans of John Whitney’s probate papers on the American Ancestors website. You do not need a subscription to view these records. I hope you find a lot of information! Thank you for writing.

Valerie — May 29, 2017

Thank you for this useful information! Indeed, the pew chart includes Mr. Bray, Mrs. Bray, Goodwife Bray, Mrs. Whitney, and Mr. Arneway. I didn’t see a Nowell, but it could very well be one of the names that has been scraped away. Mr. Bray and Mr. Arneway are both in Our Lady Chapel.

Heather Wolfe — November 15, 2012

I don’t see a Nowell, but I see someone who looks like Newell in the fourth stall on the right of the center choir aisle (this link should take you to a zoomed-in view of that: ).

Thanks for sharing this with us!

Sarah Werner — November 15, 2012

I agree. It’s so helpful to have more names and more of a sense of the parishioners at St. Margaret’s. An identification of this chart with any one mentioned in the churchwardens’ accounts remains elusive.

On another front, there are intriguing questions about the chart’s visual scheme. Are the arches an attempt to mix an elevation with the ground plan? Are they indicative of a chancel screen? There seems to have been one—taken down in 1640s.

The communion table is set up as an altar at the top of the plan (though labeled a table). Can we take this to be a sign of ceremonialism? Or is this just the position of the piece of furniture at rest?

Why no communion rail indicated, when according to Matthew Wren’s Parentalia St. Margaret’s had a reputation for having a communion rail “time out of mind.” (Merritt, 348).

Lots of tantalizing leads, no clear answers.

Kathleen Lynch — November 16, 2012

Re: Mr. Thomas Whitney, gentleman & Mary Bray,

I am also a descendant of the above couple. I am seeking clarification of the image of the pews. In Our Lady Chapel there is a Mr. Whitney 2. Am I correct in assuming that the numeral 2 stands for how many places belong to Mr. Whitney?

Thank you so much for making this wonderful image available on the internet.
Best Regards,
Ed Sinker in Herefordshire UK

Edward Sinker — March 23, 2013

It seems right to us that the numeral 2 refers to the number of seats. Thanks for calling our attention to this family.

Kathleen Lynch — April 2, 2013

Thomas Gassaway and his wife Ann Collinswood were parishioners of Saint Margaret’s around 1634 when they baptized their son Nicholas Gassaway. They are my ancesters. They were also married in this church in 1631. He was 31 and she was 16 at the date of their marriage. The lived in London Town. Are they on the pew list?

Thank you

Christine Gibson — July 26, 2013

I do not see those names on the chart, but remember, lots of names have been obliterated by being scraped away. 1631 as a point of reference may make mention of these people unlikely. We have not hazarded a specific date for this chart, but there are three references to expenses paid for a new “plotte” in the churchwarden’s accounts. As they range from 1570/1 to 1615/16, they would all predate the adulthood of the people you name. You might find some useful information in H. F. Westlake, St Margaret’s Westminster (London, 1914).

Kathleen Lynch — July 29, 2013