St Mary Somerset

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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 Somerset (“7”   on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of Early Modern London) was originally built at least as long ago as the late twelfth century, the first written record of it being in a deed of 1150-70.  A chapel was added in 1405. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow described the church at that time as “proper”, adding, though, that “the monuments are all defaced”. He thought the same “to be of old time called Somer’s Hithe, of some man’s name that was owner of the ground near adjoining”.

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The church was burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, and subsequently rebuilt by Wren between 1685-95, only to be substantially demolished   sometime between 1869 and  1872 (sources differ), when the parish was united with St Nicholas Cole Abbey.  The south-west tower survives, thanks to the intervention of the Gothic Revival architect Ewan Christian; atop it, “four obelisks and four urns jostling each other like jungle plants trying to reach the sunshine” (Nairn). 

The altar, font, pulpit and bell from St Mary Somerset were salvaged when it was demolished, and moved to St Mary Britannia Street in Hoxton, the construction of the latter of which, incidentally, was paid for out of the proceeds from the sale of the site of the former. They may now be seen in the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Hoxton, St Mary Britannia Street having been demolished.

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