St Peter Cheap or Westcheap

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 Peter Cheap or Westcheap, also known as St Peter Wood Street or St Peter by the Cross (“15” on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of Early Modern London) was originally built at least as long ago as the twelfth century, the earliest record of it dating to 1196. It was subsequently partially rebuilt in 1491, at the expense of Thomas Wood, goldsmith and sheriff, and again in 1503, using moneys bequeathed by and John Shaw, sometime mayor, for “the … Church … to be bylded and made wt a flatte roofe” and also “the Stepull there to be made up in gode and conuenient manr”. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow noted that among the burials in the church was that of Nicholas Farringdon, goldsmith and four-times mayor, who died in 1361. The churchwardens’ accounts, dating to 1453, contain interesting entries relating to pre-Reformation practices and items, such as provision of a room for the morrow-mass priest, a veil to be hung in the quire during Lent, and bread and wine for the singers of the Passion on Palm Sunday, not to mention “setting up the stage for the Prophets”. My twelve-times great uncle, Simon West, stationer, was a churchwarden in the early seventeenth century.

The  church was burned down   in the Great Fire of 1666,  and not rebuilt again afterwards, the former parish uniting with that of St Matthew Friday Street.   The former churchyard on Wood Street survives as a city garden, containing a venerable plane tree, in which, in Wordsworth’s poem “The Reverie of Poor Susan“, written in 1797, “hangs a thrush that sings loud”. Some parish boundary markers also survive.

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