St Swithin London Stone

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 Swithin London Stone (“S” on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of Early Modern London) was originally built at least as long ago as the thirteenth century, the oldest written reference to it being in Pope Nicholas IV’s “Taxatio Ecclesiastica” of 1291.  It was subsequently rebuilt in 1420. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow recorded a number of monuments in the church, including those of “Sir John Hend, draper, mayor [1391 and 1404]”, and “especial” benefactor, who “lieth buried … with a fair stone upon him, but the plates and inscriptions are defaced”, and “Ralph Jecoline, mayor [1464]”, another benefactor, “buried in a fair tomb”. Later, at some point during the inter-regnum (1649-60), the Rector, Richard Owen, was ejected from his post for his support of the Royalist cause, evidently going on to hold clandestine services in the home of the diarist John Evelyn. John Dryden was married to Lady Elizabeth Howard in the church in 1663.   

The church was burned down   in the Great Fire of 1666, and rebuilt again, by Wren, in 1677-86, using materials salvaged from St Mary Bothaw.  It went on to be severely damaged by bombing in 1941, and to be demolished in 1957. 

It is one of the twenty-one “lost” Wren churches, and one of the four lost during the Blitz of the Second World War.

Essentially only the so-called “London Stone”, that had been built into the south wall of the church in 1798, still   survives at its former site, as stipulated in the conditions for its redevelopment. 

Note, through, that there are also parish boundary markers on Cannon Street and in Oxford Court.  

The churchyard  also survives,  between Oxford Court and Salters Hall Court.  The Welsh freedom fighter Owain  Glyndwr’s daughter Catrin and her  daughters were buried here after dying in captivity in the Tower of London  in 1413, the year in which Henry IV died.  (The circumstances were suspicious, as Catrin’s daughters, by Edmund Mortimer, had a claim to the throne at the time). 

A modern Gelligaer bluestone sculpture by Nic Stradlyn-John and Richard Renshaw, inscribed with a Welsh englyn by Menna Elfyn, marks the spot.  (Freely) rendered into English, by me, the  englyn reads: “In the Tower, now her home,|Her heart-song turns to longing:|The exile’s silent lament”.  

Swithin was Bishop of Winchester in the ninth century.

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