St Mary at Hill

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 Mary-at-Hill (not individually identified on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of Early Modern London, although situated on “S. Mary Hyll”) was originally built at least as long ago as the thirteenth century, and possibly as long ago as the twelfth, around 1177. It was subsequently rebuilt around the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, between 1487-1504, partly at the expense of Robert Reuell, and repaired in the early seventeenth, in 1616. In his “Chronicles” of 1516, Robert Fabian described how, “In the year 1497, … as labourers digged for the foundation of a wall, within the Church … , they found a coffin of timber, and therein the corpse of a woman, … upon whose sepulchre this was graven: ‘Here lieth the bodies of Richard Hackney, fishmonger, and Alice his wife’. The which Richard was sheriff in the 15th of Edward II [1322]'”. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, John Stow noted that “Nicholas Exton, fishmonger, mayor 1387; … William Cambridge, mayor, 1420; … William Remington, mayor 1500; Sir Thomas Blanke, mayor 1582 ; … [and] Sir Cuthbert Buckle, mayor 1594” were also buried here, as was one “William Holstocke, esquire, comptroller of the king’s ships”. In his “London Churches before the Great Fire” of 1917, Wilberforce Jenkinson refers to a record of 1536 that indicates that a miracle play was performed in the church that year: “Item, paid to Wolston ffor makyng of ye stages ffor ye prophettes vjd [6d]”.

The church was substantially burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, and rebuilt by Wren between 1670-4, and later modified in the eighteenth century, and again in the  nineteenth, and twice in the twentieth.    Wren was evidently able to incorporate some parts of the Medieval church that had survived the Great Fire into his rebuild, most obviously the north wall.  It has even been suggested that his overall plan for the church, which is essentially in the form of   a Byzantine “quincunx”, may have been based  on that of the  Medieval one. 

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Stained-glass windows in the church commemorate nearby churches that were lost in the Great Fire, namely St Andrew Hubbard, St Botolph Billingsgate and St George Botolph Lane.

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