St Mary, Whitechapel (Whitechapel Church)

Another in the series on the historic churches of the out-parishes 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. There were a further twelve  in the out-parishes of Middlesex (north of the river) and Surrey (south of the river).

As Stow put it, in his “Survey of London” of 1598, “Whitechapel Church … a [thirteenth-century] chapel-of-ease  to the parish of Stebinhith [Stepney], and the parson of Stebinhith hath the gift thereof, which, being first dedicated to the … Blessed Virgin, is now called as St. Mary Matfellon”. As to the unusual name, he added: “About the year 1428, … a devout widow of that parish had long time cherished and brought up of alms a certain Frenchman, … , which most … cruelly in a night murdered the said widow sleeping in her bed, and after fled with such … stuff of hers as he might carry… . … . Then the constables having charge of him … : … so soon as he was come into the parish where before he had committed the murder the wives cast upon him … much filth and ordure of the street … [and] … slew him out of hand: and for this feat, it hath been said, that parish … purchased the name of St. Mary Matfellon: but I find in record … that in the year 1336, … the parson of Stebinhith … presented a clerk to be parson in the church of the Blessed Mary called Matfellon, without Aldgate of London … “.

The church survived the Great Fire of 1666.  However, it was subsequently rebuilt again, in the Neoclassical style,  in 1673, and yet again, in the Victorian Gothic style,   in 1877.  It was seriously damaged by bombing in the Blitz of the Second World War, in 1941, and subsequently demolished in 1952. 

Its  former site is now  a garden, named  Altab Ali Park, in honour of a young Bengali who was murdered nearby in a racially motivated attack in 1978.  Richard Brandon, the  rag-man from the Royal Mint who was given the task of beheading Charles I in 1649, was buried in the churchyard. 

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