Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Lambeth Pedlar, his dog and a church window.

A 17th century Pedlar, his Dog and a Painted Glass Window.
A drawing of the Lambeth pedlar window.
         I came across the story of the Lambeth Pedlar and his dog whilst researching an article for the veterinary press. In the parish church of Saint Mary’s, Lambeth there is a painted glass window showing a man weighted down with a back pack, with a dog at his feet. This is not the original window, which dated back to 1608 (destroyed in a WWII bombing raid.) After the war Saint Mary’s parishioners, loyal the memory of the mysterious pedlar, commissioned the replacement window that exists today. But who was the pedlar, and why is there a picture of his dog on a church wndow?
A view over Lambeth Palace in 1685.

Local lore has it that this window depicts the Lambeth Pedlar and his faithful companion. The story goes that this eccentric salesman hoarded the money earnt by selling his wares door to door and the only comfort he allowed himself was his dog. When the dog died the pedlar was so bereft that he pledged to leave all his money to the parish if they agreed to either bury the dog in the churchyard, or commerate him in the church.  The churchwarden’s account for 1608 includes the following:
            “Two shillings paid to the glazier for a panel of glass for the window where the picture of the pedlar stands.”
Pedlars, illustrated above, were a common sight in the 1600's.
An alternative explanation of the Pedlar’s window has also been suggested. This involves one Henry Smith or “Dog Smith” a wealthy London Alderman who died in 1627. At the time he was a well known benefactor to the poor and it was rumored that Henry sometimes dressed in rags to travel in cognito, accompanied by a dog to test out the character of those he was thinking of helping. His would visit a village and beg a bone for the dog and bread for himself. If the villagers turned him away empty handed then he to, declined to give charity to the Parish.
            Whichever explanation is correct; a story of doggy devotion or eccentric benevolence, this glass window reminds us to this day, of the generosity of the human spirit. 
A Cats Meat Man - another type of street trader who peddled his wares door to door.

NEXT POST (Tuesday) "The value of a cat" - in Medieval Wales.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Grace,

    Whichever version of events is the truth, it's still a great story and so much of an insight into our social history, something which we all too often take for granted.

    We love looking around churches, particularly those with stained glass windows, as I have an uncle, who designed, made and installed one of the stained glass windows in Canterbury Cathedral.



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