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 Olave Hart Street (“A” on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of Early Modern London) was probably originally built in wood in the eleventh century, sometime after the canonisation of St Olave in 1031, and subsequently rebuilt in stone in the late twelfth to early thirteenth century, and again in the mid-fifteenth, around 1450, and extended in the sixteenth to seventeenth. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow described it as “a proper church”, and recorded there a number of memorials, including those of “Richard Cely [d. 1482] and Robert Cely, fellmongers, principal builders and benefactors” and of “Sir Richard Haddon, mercer, mayor 1522”. In 1703, after Stow’s time, the naval administrator and diarist Samuel Pepys was buried under the altar of the church. There is a memorial to him on the south side, opposite one of his long-suffering wife Elizabeth, whose expression suggests that she is “admonishing her wayward husband”. My eleven-times great uncle, John West, clothworker and scrivener, knew Pepys, was one of the signatories to his will and codicil, and attended his funeral in St Olave’s. He was bequeathed a gold ring in the will.
The church was undamaged in the Great Fire of 1666, thanks to the action of Admiral William Penn, who ordered his men to blow up the surrounding houses to create a fire break. It was later damaged by bombing on the last night of the Blitz, 10th/11th May, 1941, and rebuilt again between 1951-4. Some of the surviving external walls date to the thirteenth- to fifteenth- centuries, and the tower to the fifteenth.
In the interior, the crypt survives from the thirteenth century, …
… as do a number of memorials from the sixteenth and seventeenth. Some of the interior fittings were salvaged from All Hallows Staining, St Benet Gracechurch and St Katharine Coleman.
The gateway to the churchyard is especially memorable for its “ghastly grim” adornment of skulls and cross-bones, from a design by Hendrik de Keyser. It dates to 1658.