ONE OF LONDON’S FEW remaining pre-1666 (Fire of London) buildings is the church of St Bartholomew the Great close to Smithfield Market. Founded in the 12th century, the building has many Norman (Romanesque) features. It also contains some contemporary artefacts including “Colloquy” (a work made from glass) by Sophie Arkette, and “St Bartholomew. Exquisite Pain” (a work in gilded bronze) by Damien Hirst.
Beyond the chancel at the east end of the church there is the spacious Lady Chapel. During the Reformation (after about 1529), this part of the church was closed off from the rest of it, and used as commercial premises. In the 18th century, it was used as a printer’s workshop owned by Mr Palmer. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), one of the founding fathers of the USA, worked as an apprentice in this printing works in 1725. Then, he was lodging nearby in Little Britain. While he was working in the converted Lady Chapel, he wrote his philosophical pamphlet, “A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain.” Franklin wrote:
“At Palmer’s I was employed in composing for the second edition of Wollaston’s “Religion of Nature.” Some of his reasonings not appearing to me well founded, I wrote a little metaphysical piece in which I made remarks on them. It was entitled “A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain.” I inscribed it to my friend Ralph; I printed a small number. It occasion’d my being more consider’d by Mr. Palmer as a young man of some ingenuity, tho’ he seriously expostulated with me upon the principles of my pamphlet, which to him appear’d abominable.”
The workshop was purchased by the church and restored as a Lady Chapel in 1897. An information panel next to it provides its history and connection with the young Franklin. It was by pure chance that I came across this London link with the American Revolution on the 4th of July.