Robert Purfote and the boundaries of sanctuary

Here is one of my old favourites: a London grocer named Robert Purfote who took sanctuary at St Martin le Grand around 1480 for debt.

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A grocer. Source

In a 1530s royal enquiry regarding the bounds of St Martin le Grand, Purfote’s former apprentice, grocer William Mathew, testified that once safe from his creditors in sanctuary Purfote reopened his grocery shop in a property inside, but right on the boundary of the sanctuary precinct. Though he couldn’t leave the SMLG precinct for fear of arrest, his customers could come to him. His shop door opened into St Martin’s, but he also cut a window out to the street outside the precinct where he could sell his goods without leaving his shop.

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Source

Over the years Purfote was able to pay off his debts and come out of sanctuary: but apparently he found the business in his sanctuary shop so good that he stayed in the same property for the rest of his life. He even acquired the shop next door and expanded.

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Source

His original shop was inside the sanctuary but the expanded area next door was outside the boundaries – so his shop was then half-in, half-out of sanctuary (see map at the top). The boundary was no longer marked by a wall, but a post stood where the wall had been. That post was used to mark the boundary of the precinct also on the street outside, where the sanctuary extended to the drainage channel in the middle of the street: sanctuary seekers could go up to those lines but no further, or they risked arrest.

TNA, C 24/3, “Abbas,” mm8-9,10,12-13,16-17; STAC 2/20/323, mm19-23; PROB 11/15/654, Will of Robert Purfote, 1508; WAM, MS 13324. I wrote an article about this and other strange topographical elements of the SMLG sanctuary.

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