St Helen Bishopsgate

Another in the  series on City of London buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666, and that still survive to this day …

The church of St Helen Bishopsgate was originally built in the eleventh century, possibly around 1010, the  adjoining former Benedictine nunnery church in the thirteenth, around 1210, and still later rebuilds, additions and embellishments to the fourteenth through early seventeenth  (*).  It was undamaged by the Great Fire, although nonetheless requiring to be restored in 1893, only to be damaged by IRA bombs in 1992 and 1993,  and restored again in 1993-5.

The exterior of the church is substantially surviving thirteenth-century, although  both  west front doors are later replacements, and the porch housing the south side door is much later, built, in the Renaissance style,  in 1633.   The construction of the church made use of much Roman dressed stone and tile, most likely sourced  either from a   Roman building  that once stood on the site, or from the city wall that once stood a short distance away.

The church is dubbed “The Westminster Abbey of the City” because of the beauty of its interior and the richness of its memorials.








The alabaster effigies of Sir John de Oteswich and his wife, salvaged from the church of St Martin Outwich, date to the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, and numerous other monuments to the fifteenth to seventeenth, including those of Sir John Crosby (d. 1476), Sir Thomas Gresham (d. 1579), and Martin Bond (d. 1643), together with some brasses with their “superstitious inscriptions” deliberately defaced by Puritans in 1644.  The arcade separating the former nuns’ quire from the nave dates to 1475; the nuns’ squint, built into the monument to Johane Alfrey, to 1525.  The carved wooden figure of a beggar supporting the poor-box,  the intricately carved and panelled  pulpit, and the south doorcase all date to the first half of the seventeenth century;  the inscribed wooden sword-rest to 1665.

(*) The nunnery was suppressed in 1538, whereupon the nunnery church was incorporated into the parish church, and the remaining nunnery buildings and land were given to Thomas Cromwell’s adopted son Richard Wyllyams, who sold them  to the Leathersellers’ Company.

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