One Hundred Churches in one Square Mile…

We have a wonderful little guide book to London entitled, I Never Knew That About London, by Christopher Winn.

Hubs decided we would visit EC3 and tour some of the remaining 100 Mediaeval Churches that used to exist in one square mile of the East End when Shakespeare was alive and writing.  This translates to a church every 3 acres serving approximately 300 residents.  The parishes would support their congregants and played a vital role in mediaeval life.

We headed off to Fenchurch Street, with its view of the Tower,


and began a delightful saunter to see All Hallows  founded in 675 and the oldest church in London.


The heart of Richard I (the Lionheart) is said to be buried somewhere in the north part of the churchyard, beneath a chapel built there by Richard in the 12th century.  The chapel is long gone!


We sat in one of the most peaceful places on London, a tiny, vaulted  chapel, beneath the church, of bare, crumbling stone dedicated to St. Clare,


before continuing down to the Undercroft where we walked on Roman pavement laid down in the 2nd Century.


St. Thomas More and Bishop Fisher were brought into the church after their execution at the Tower for refusing to sign Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy in 1535.  In 1644 William Penn was baptised at All Hallows and in 1797 John Quincy Adams, who later became the 6th president of the United States, married Louisa Catherine Johnson.



We popped into St. Margaret Pattens where a quintet was playing,


which houses the only two examples of canopied pews in a Wren church.


They are reserved for church wardens and the pew on the left has Wren’s initials, CW 1686, carved on the ceiling indicating that this is where he sat when attending services.


it is where I sat, briefly, too!

Next was St. Mary at Hill, Billingsgate.


There has been a church on this site for 1000 years!  It is renowned for its gorgous organ.


The church was restored in Gothic style after the Great Fire of London and it really is a magnificent space,







Next came the church of St. Dunstan on Idol Lane which was destroyed by the Blitz.  The shell remains,


and has been turned into a charming garden, an oasis of peace for city workers, and not a bit of rubbish in sight despite numerous Londoners eating their lunches.


The Gothic Wren tower of 1697 survived.


Just inside the entranceway is a piece of the Roman Wharf from the 1st century, we almost walked past it sitting un-pretentiously in the corner!


At the bottom of Pudding Lane,


where the Great Fire of London started in 1666, stands St. Magnus the Martyr.  Despite its grimy exterior it is rich with white and gold inside.



There has been a church here at least since 1067! I was particularly taken with this little confessional,


and its many elaborate and highly decorated altars,



Among the memorials is one to Miles Coverdale who oversaw the production of the first complete bible in English.  The church organ was built by Abraham Jordan and was the first swell organ in the world.

After lunch we visited St. Olave at the top of Seething Lane, a set of skulls are carved in the stone above the gateway,


since the churchyard was the burial place for many of the victims of the Great Plague in 1665.


In the tower there is a memorial to Monkhouse Davidson and Abraham Newman, whose grocery business in Fenchurch Street sent out the tea that was seized and jettisoned in the Boston Tea Party in 1773 and we all know where that led!





A church has been on this site since 1025 and was one of the few London churches to escape the Great Fire in 1666.


Samuel Pepys who also lived on Seething Lane, where he wrote his diaries, is buried alongside his wife in the nave.

St. Katherine Cree across the street, is also another survivor of the Great Fire and is a 17th century rebuilding of a 13th century church.  It is a mixture of Gothic and classical styles.


The rose window at the east end is modelled on the one in old St. Paul’s.


This is the pulpit in the middle of the church


from which is preached the Lion Sermon annually on October 16th.  The sermon was  originally given in gratitude by Sir John Gayer, a 17th century Lord Mayor of London who survived an encounter with a lion in the Arabian desert.

On the way out a side door we stumbled upon the bell pulls.


There has been a church at St. Botolph’s at Bishopsgate since Roman Times.  It survived the Great Fire and lost one window in the Second World War.


However, on April 24th 1993 an IRA bomb attack opened up the roof and left it with no doors or windows.  Three and a half years later its restoration was complete and a new stained glass window was commisioned by the Worshipful Company of Bowyers, the most romantic of mediaeval industries, the makers of bows.


The interior was beautiful,




The last church we were able to go into was nearby St. Helen’s dubbed as the Westminster Abbey of the City because of all its memorials.


Helen was the mother of Emperor Constantine who is linked with the original church built here in 4th century.  St. Helen’s is unique in the City in that it has two parallel medieval naves one belonging to the original parish church the other to a Benedictine nunnery founded here in 1204.  This is the only building from a nunnery to survive n the City.

It is the largest surviving church in the city and is dwarfed by the temples of commerce that surround it.


St. Helen’s also survived the Great Fire and the Blitz but fell foul of IRA bombs in the 1990’s.

It contains more monuments than any other London church except Westminster Abbey.


Included is the tomb chest of Sir Thomas Gresham wealthiest of the Elizabethan merchants and founder of the Royal Exchange.


There had been a large lunchtime gathering when we arrived and we were able to speak to someone about the recent history of the church.  Fifty years ago a priest started a Tuesday bible study for the city businessmen.  They brought their wives at the weekends to hear straighforward bible teaching and gradually a large and thriving community emerged.

Today on Sundays there are upwards of 1000 congregants.  Every day of the week there is a bible based activity attended by the young people of the city.  Here one of the side chapels was being used as a food serving area looked down upon by more monuments.


On the way out I caught one of the few surviving sections of stained glass depicting the bard.  Shakespeare lived in the parish in 1597.


This is where we learned that during Shakespeare’s time there were 100 churches in 1 square mile.

If you followed my links you will find that the diocese of London is a liberal, inclusive one.  A National climate I have had to come to terms with during my year here.


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