Another in the series on historic churches in the City of London …
By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of the City, despite a number having been closed down during the Reformation. To be precise, according to Parish Clerks’ records, there were 97 churches within the walls of the City, and 16 without, making a total of 113.
St Botolph Billingsgate (reversed “E” on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of Early Modern London) was originally built at least as long ago as 1291, being listed in Pope Nicholas IV’s “Taxatio Ecclesiastica” of that year, and possibly as long ago as the twelfth or even the eleventh century (i.e., before the Norman Conquest). The first rector was Thomas de Snodelonde, in 1343. In 1559, the first full year of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, “the Rood and the Images of Mary and John and of the Patron of that Church were burnt with books of Superstition”.
At the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the antiquarian John Stow described it as “a proper church” with “many fair monuments”. These included one to the John Rainwell or Reynwell, Fishmonger, and Mayor of London in 1426, bearing the following epitaph:
“Citizens of London, call to your remembrance,
The famous John Rainwell, sometime your Maior,
Of the staple of Callis, so was his chance.
Here lieth now his corps: his soule bright and faire,
Is taken to heaven’s blisse, thereof is no despaire.
His acts beare witness, by matters of recorde,
How charitable he was, ansd of what accorde.
No man hath beene so beneficial as hee,
Unto the Citie in giving liberallie”. & c.
The church was burned down in the Great Fire of 1666 and never rebuilt, and the parish was merged with that of St George Botolph Lane.
Essentially only the former churchyard survives above ground, between Nos. 31 and 35 Monument Street. However, excavations in Billingsgate Lorry Park in 1982 brought to light some underground remains.
Botolph, who died in 655, was the patron saint of travellers. There were four churches dedicated to him in London in the Dark to Middle Ages, all of them at one or other of the city’s gates.