Thomas Babb & The beheaded Archbishop of Canterbury

While researching Thomas Babb of Limehouse, on the East side of London, I came across a record for a Thomas Babb, Painter, who conducted work in the Lambeth neighborhood of London. The two locations are about 10 km (6 miles) apart, and with the name of Thomas I first thought this was part of the family of Mariner Thomas Babb (d. 1620). After comparing locations and the timeline, I’ve decided this isn’t the same person as Thomas Babb (1655) of the ship Hopewell. The Limehouse family was deeply engaged in Shipping and neither the Thomas of 1620 or 1655 would have had the time and skills to perform this task.

Instead, this starts a new timeline for what appears to be a different Babb family in London. It predates any other records from Lambeth by about 200 years.

London is an ancient city and being the largest in the UK it has always drawn people from all parts of the world. Thomas would be no exception. Who he was and what tree he belonged to will likely never be known, but today we revel in this snippet of his life and add him to our vast collection of Babbs!

How the story goes

This document appears innocuous on its surface but looks are deceiving. We see in the document two entries. The one above Thomas’ gives a more detailed account of what work he did and offers some interesting facts.

First, the work was conducted for the Archbishop Laud, who paid for the work. Both Thomas and Richard Butler were hired to paint glass for the chapel of Lambeth. It turns out that this isn’t any old chapel. It is located inside the Lambeth Palace which is the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury and turns out to be his private chapel.

The windows that were being renovated were first installed in 1486 and by 1634 were in terrible repair.

Bishop Laud was also s a figure of some serious controversy.

I struggled to assure myself that this was the correct Lambeth Chapel, so as not to go off course. I finally found confirmation in the story in the history of the chapel itself. It reads:

WILLIAM LAUD 1633 – 1645
When Archbishop Laud came to the See of Canterbury, he found that
Archbishop Morton‟s windowes were so peeced and quite out of order
and reparation, that it grieved his very heart to see it in such a
condition….whereupon he gave order for repairing, renewing the
glasse windowes, and out of the fragments of the old painted glasse
remaining in them (not by the helpe of the pictures in his printed Masse
Booke), he made a shift as well as he could, to make up the stories
and representation formerly defaced, without any addition, but only of
new glasse in lieu of the old that was demolished. (4)

Archbishop Laud was beheaded in 1645 for high treason and other
high crimes. One of the gravest charges against him was that he had
assumed papal-type power to subvert the true religion and introduce
Popish superstition. This injunction was based, in part, on the fact that
he had encouraged the installation of stained glass windows in
churches which was evidenced at Lambeth where a large crucifix was
in the east window. In his defence, Laud, replied that the window was
standing in my predecessor’s time, though a little broken; so I did but
mend it – I did not set it up. (3) Detailed descriptions of all the Lambeth
Chapel windows submitted at the trial as „proof‟ of Laud‟s guilt were
penned by the Puritan attorney William Prynne, and his records have
been the inspiration for the choice and sequence of the current biblical

(3) Lambeth Palace, and its Associations, J Cave-Browne, Edinburgh and London, William Blackwood, 1882
(4) Canterburie‟s Doome, William Prynne, London, 1646
Source: Story-Salvation-Nov-14.pdf (

The guide goes on to explain that the windows of the chapel were completely destroyed twice:

The windows, though modern, evoke the medieval period as they seek to be faithful to Morton’s original design (or, at least, to the records of Laud’s repairs to Morton’s original installation). There were two occasions on which all the glass was completely destroyed.

The first was in 1643, when Laud’s windows were demolished by the
parliamentarians, who used Lambeth for publicke [sic] service and a prison, and again when the Chapel was hit by incendiary bombs during the
Second World War, in 1941.

Thus these windows, with their modern design reflecting their predecessors’ medieval style, witness not only to the beauty of God but to the beauty and persistence of the human spirit in the face of setback. The story of faith and the testimony of discipleship are evidenced both within the glass and behind it.

The window known as 4.5 sits to the far right behind the Alter. It is titled Lifting the Brazen Serpent and bears the date 1634. While it is a replacement, it is based on the outline presented during Archbishop Laud’s trial.

It and the other parts of Window 4, based on the extant transcripts of Archbishop Laud‟s trial, researched by architects Seely and Paget, were designed by Carl Edwards and Hugh Powell in accordance with the wishes of Archbishop Fisher. On 19 October 1955, the Chapel together with the
East Window (Window 4) was rededicated during a splendid service in
the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and other members of the
royal family.

Closing Thoughts

Thomas Babb was clearly a master of his craft to be able to work on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He worked as a “Painter of Glass”, which is a technique applied and then fired into stained glass, producing images such as people’s faces and hands.

He may or may not have known that his work would be considered blasphemy.

We can only imagine the shock, fear or humiliation he might have felt at the outrage his work inspired.

We don’t know where he came prior to London and if not for this singular record we would not know of his existence.

Laud was a man of many controversies. His full story can be found here: William Laud – Wikipedia

The next time you are in London, you have a new place to visit. I know I do!

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