St Mary Aldermary

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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. 

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St Mary Aldermary (reversed “3”  on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of Early Modern London) was originally built at least as long ago as  1080. Stow, in his “Survey of London” of 1598, opined that the suffix appended to the appellation of the church signified that it was “elder than any … St Marie in the Citie”, including St Mary-le-Bow, which dates to 1087. Schofield has suggested that the church could have been built as long ago as 1020. Richard Chaucer, Vintner and grandfather of the more famous Geoffrey, was buried there in 1348, which was, coincidentally or otherwise, the year of the “Black Death”; William Taylor, Grocer and Mayor, in 1483.

The church was subsequently rebuilt in 1510-28, formerly at the expense of, and latterly from a bequest from, the sometime Mayor Henry Keble; and again in 1626-9, when a new tower was added, by one Radoway. Keble was buried in the church when he died in 1517. Fuller described, in his “Worthies of England” of 1662, how “years after, his bones were unkindly, yes inhumanely cast out … , his monument plucked down for some wealthy person of the present time to be buried therein” (possibly William Laxton, Grocer, who died in 1556, and/or Thomas Lodge, Grocer and Mayor, who died in 1583). The parson of the church lost his life in the affair of “The Maid of Kent”, whose actual name was Elizabeth Barton, in 1534. According to the “Chronicle of the Grey Friars“, “Thys yere was the mayde of Kent with the Monkes freeres and the Parson of Aldermary draune to Tyborne, and there hangyd and heddyd … , the Monkes burryt at the Blacke freeres … , the holy mayde at the Gray freeres, and the parsone at his Church”.

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The church was substantially destroyed during the  Great Fire of 1666, and rebuilt yet again by Wren between  1679-82, and further modified in 1701-4, when the tower was replaced, and again in 1876-7.   Wren was evidently able to incorporate some parts of the pre-Great Fire church into his rebuild. As Nairn put it: “[He] treated Gothic as though it were a cantankareous aunt: with affectionate disrespect”. 

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The fan-vaulted ceiling is very fine. 

Some of the interior fittings were salvaged from St Antholin.

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