St Helen Bishopsgate

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 Helen Bishopsgate (“S. Elen” on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of Early Modern London) was originally built as a parish church at least as long  ago as 1010, and subsequently rebuilt to incorporate  a – Benedictine – nunnery  church in 1210, and  extended and embellished between the fourteenth and early seventeenth  centuries (the nunnery was suppressed in 1538, whereupon its buildings and land were given to Thomas Cromwell’s adopted son Richard Wyllyams, who sold them  to the Leathersellers’ Company).  The original 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 dedication to Helen is interesting, as she was the mother of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine.

It was undamaged by the Great Fire of 1666, although nonetheless requiring to be restored in 1893, …

Bob ancient 035

… only to be damaged by IRA bombs in 1992 and 1993,  and restored again in 1994-5.

St Helen's Bishopsgate, with the Gherkin in the background

East end

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

West Front

The exterior is substantially surviving early thirteenth-century, and in the Early English Gothic style, although  both  west front doors are later replacements, …

St Helen Bishopsgate (2)

… and the porch housing the south side door is early seventeenth-century, and in the Renaissance style.

Nuns' quire and east window

Arcade (2)

In the interior, the arcade separating the former nuns’ quire from the nave dates to 1475; …

Nuns' squint

… 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.

Oteswich memorial (c. 1400), St Helen Bishopsgate

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, …

Crosby memorial (1478), St Helen Bishopsgate

… and numerous other monuments to the fifteenth to seventeenth, including those of Sir John Crosby (d. 1476), …

Pickering memorial (1574), St Helen Bishopsgate

… Sir William Pickering (d. 1574), …

Gresham memorial, with nuns' squint to left

… Sir Thomas Gresham (d. 1579), …


… and Martin Bond (d. 1643), …

Cotesbrok memorial (1393), St Helen Bishopsgate

… together with some brasses with their “superstitious inscriptions” deliberately defaced by Puritans in 1644.



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