St Nicholas Cole Abbey

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 Nicholas Cole Abbey (“12”  on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of Early Modern London) was probably originally built in the twelfth century, in around 1130, repaired and extended in the fourteenth, in 1377, when the tower was added, and further modified in the seventeenth, in 1628, when battlements were added to the tower. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow described it as “a proper church, somewhat ancient”, with a “steeple or tall tower … of a later building: to wit, the 1st of Richard II., when it was meant the whole old church should have been new built, as appeareth by the arching begun on the east side … , under the which, … the arms of one Buckland … are cut in stone, … whereby it appeareth that he was the builder of the steeple and repairer of the residue”. Stow also noted that among those buried in the church was “Walter Turke, fishmonger, mayor 1349”.

The church was burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, and subsequently rebuilt by Wren between 1671-81, and modified in 1873, and again in 1928-31. It was then gutted  by bombing in  1941, and rebuilt again  in 1961-62.  

The leaded hexagonal spire inset with porthole-like windows is  a most distinctive feature of the City skyline.   The topping weather-vane in the shape of a ship was salvaged from St Michael  Queenhithe.   Nicholas is the patron saint of mariners and fishermen (and of those wrongly condemned).

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