Author Archives: Bob Jones - The Lost City of London

About Bob Jones - The Lost City of London

My name is Bob Jones and I am a writer on the history of London.

Stepney Church (St Dunstan and All Saints)

Memorial to “honist” Abraham Zouch of Wappin, rope maker (d. 1648)

The last 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).

Exterior
Interior

Stepney Church (St Dunstan and All Saints) was originally built in the Saxon or early Medieval period, and subsequently rebuilt in the later Medieval.  It is known as “The Mother Church of the East End”, and also as “The Church of the High Seas”, on account of the area’s maritime association.  

Saxon rood cross

There is a surviving Saxon rood cross in the interior. 

Memorial to Abraham Rallings, mariner (d. 1644)
Memorial to Admiral Sir John Berry (d. 1689)

As might be expected, there are also a number of memorials to seafarers and ancillary tradespeople.  

Tomb of Sir Henry Colet, twice Lord Mayor of London (d. 1510)

During the Great Plague of 1665, there were 6583 plague deaths in the parish, more than in any other parish in London.

St Mary, Rotherhithe (Rotherhithe or Redriff 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).

St Mary, Rotherhithe was originally built in the Medieval period, when there was comparatively little settlement in the area, apart from Edward III’s retreat on the river-front.

Church
Watch House
Associated Free School

The church was subsequently rebuilt in 1715, by which time Rotherhithe had become an important maritime centre, with timber and ship-building yards, docks and wharves, where artisan mast-makers, coopers, anchor-smiths, and others plied their trades.

The memorials of a number of men associated with the maritime trade were salvaged from the old church. These include those of Captain Thomas Stone, who died in 1666, and Captain Anthony Wood.

Captain Christopher Jones was also buried in the church, in 1622. He had been the Captain of the Mayflower, which set sail from Rotherhithe  in 1620 for Plymouth and eventually the Americas. 

Rather remarkably, a South Sea Island Prince, Lee Boo, was also buried in the church, in 1784. The story of how this came to be is as follows. In 1782, three Rotherhithe men set sail on the East India Company’s packet the Antelope in order to round Cape Horn and cross the Pacific from east to west in search of trade opportunities. But after a year at sea they became shipwrecked on the reefs of the “Pelews” – Palau. Here, they befriended the local royal family, and, with their assistance, they repaired their ship, and renamed it the Oroolong. It was then agreed by both parties that they would take young Prince Lee Boo with them on their onward journey, that he might learn their ways, and become an Englishman. They first sailed to Macao and Canton, where Lee Boo began his “education” in the Western way of life, writing about it in a journal. Finally, in 1784, they arrived in England. Lee Boo then travelled from Portsmouth to London by coach, describing how he had been put into “a little house which was run away with by horses”, and how he had slept, but still gone on, and had gone on one way, while the fields, houses and trees went the other. On his eventual arrival, he was given a room in the house of a Captain Wilson in Paradise Row in Rotherhithe, where he lived as one of the family. He attended a local school, and, on Sundays, the local church, of St Mary. Sadly, on 27th December, 1784, Lee Boo died, of smallpox, and two days later, according to the parish register, he was buried in St Mary’s, on the other side of the world from where he had been born. He was twenty years old.

The Liberation of Belsen

The Lost City of London - Before the Great Fire of 1666

On April 15th, 1945, shortly before the end of the Second World War, the Nazi concentration camp at Belsen was liberated by the advancing British Army.  It was subsequently established that some  70,000 camp inmates died, or were  killed, here over the course of the war, 14,000 of them in the days and weeks after the liberation.   Most of the dead were Jews from all over occupied Europe, including, famously,  the diarist Anne Frank, and her sister Margot, from Amsterdam in the Netherlands.  Note, though, that many  Russian Prisoners-Of-War also died  in Belsen (which had been  used as a P.O.W. camp until 1943).

The Team.JPGInmates being boarded onto an ambulance.JPG

On  April 21st, 1945, a team from the Friends [Quakers] Relief Service arrived to help clear the camp, to comfort the many dying inmates, and to care as best they could for the surviving ones.

My uncle, Eryl Hall Williams, was among them. …

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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. 

St Mary, Islington

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).

St Mary, Islington was originally built in the twelfth century, and subsequently rebuilt in the fifteenth.  The Jacobean playwright John Webster, perhaps most famous as the author of the revenge-tragedy “The Duchess of Malfi“, married his second wife, Sara Peniall, in the church in 1606, under special licence. She was seventeen, and heavily pregnant.

The church was rebuilt again in the eighteenth century, and yet again  sustaining bomb damage  during the Blitz in the twentieth, which had left only the tower still standing.

St Mary, Newington

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).

The old church of St Mary, Newington was originally built in the area later to become known as Newington Butts probably in the Saxon period (almost certainly being that in the Manor of Walworth referred to in the Domesday Book of 1086).  According to John Aubrey’s History of Surrey (published in 1719),  it was  subsequently rebuilt, in the “modern Gothic” style, in the post-Medieval period, around 1570; extended, by Sir Hugh Brawne, in 1600; and beautified in 1704.  Part   of the wall of the church then collapsed during a service in 1714, and a later structural survey showed much of what remained standing to be unsound, such that it had to be substantially  rebuilt again in 1720-21, and yet again in 1793.  It eventually had to be demolished in 1876.  Only the churchyard still survives at the original site.  The famous playwright and poet Thomas Middleton, who died in 1627,  is buried here.

After the old church  was demolished in 1876, a new one was built a few hundred yards to the south, on Kennington Park Road, only to be  substantially destroyed in an air raid on the last night of the Blitz of the Second World War, 10th/11th May, 1941, with essentially only the tower still standing.

The present church was built adjacent to the tower  after the war.

St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey

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).

St Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey was originally built as a chapel-cum-parish church attached to the nearby Cluniac Priory and Abbey of St Saviour, or Bermondsey Abbey, at least as long ago as the thirteenth century. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow described it as “a proper church … , built by the priors of Bermondsey serving for resort of the inhabitants (tenants to the prior or abbots there adjoining), there to have their divine service. The church remaineth [despite the Dissolution of the Monasteries], and serveth as afore … “.

The church was subsequently rebuilt in the late seventeenth century, between 1680-90, and remodelled in the  eighteenth and  nineteenth.  The lower part of the tower survives from the Medieval period.

St Leonard Shoreditch

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).

St Leonard Shoreditch was originally built at least  as long ago as the twelfth century, sometime before 1150, and was subsequently rebuilt by George Dance the Elder in the eighteenth, between  1736-40, and was restored in the twentieth following damage during the Blitz. 

An engraving of the Medieval church  still  survives, from  1735, i.e., just before it was demolished and rebuilt, which shows some apparently fifteenth-century features, possibly associated with the chantry chapel of Sir John Elrington, known to have been founded in 1482.  Other than than, essentially only the crypt of the Medieval church remains.  However, plans have recently been announced to undertake an archaeological survey in search of its site, under Prof. Maurizio Seracini of the University of California, San Diego, an expert in non-invasive investigation of historical sites and artworks (best known for his research on a long-lost Leonardo da Vinci mural in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence). 

St Leonard’s is known as “The Actor’s Church”, on account of the number of theatricals buried here, many of whom performed at the nearby “The Theatre” and “Curtain” in Shoreditch in the post-Medieval period.  Among them are Henry VIII’s jester Will Sommers, who died in 1560; the actor Gabriel Spencer, who was killed in a duel with Ben Jonson in Hoxton in 1598; and three members of the Burbage family, the impresario, James, who built “The Theatre” in 1576, and died in 1597, and his sons Cuthbert, who built the “Globe” in Southwark in 1597, and died in 1636,  and actor Richard, famous for his “Hamlet”, who died in 1619.   One might now also describe it as an acting church, characterfully inhabiting the role of St Saviour-in-the-Marshes in the sitcom “Rev”.

Lambeth 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).

Lambeth Palace gate-house (left) and Lambeth Church (right)
Church exterior
Church interior

Lambeth Church (St Mary-at-Lambeth) was originally built in the  eleventh century, and subsequently rebuilt in the fourteenth and  again in the eighteenth.  The tower of 1377 survives from the fourteenth-century rebuild.

Tradescant tomb

Here are buried, among others,  John Tradescant Sr. (c. 1580-1638), the gardener to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury; and his son John Tradescant Jr. (1608-62), the gardener to Charles II.  As well as being gardeners, the  Tradescants were also  travellers, collectors of curiosities, and joint founders of the Musaeum Tradescantianum, in a building called “The Ark” in Vauxhall, which was England’s first museum open to the public (at a cost of 6d).  In time, their  collections were  acquired by Elias Ashmole, and in 1691 donated by him to Oxford University, to form the nucleus of the Ashmolean Museum.

St Katharine by the Tower

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).

St Katharine by the Tower on the sixteenth-century “Agas” map (extreme right)

The parish church of St Katharine by the Tower began its life as a collegiate church  constituting part of the Royal  Hospital of St Katharine, which was originally founded by Queen Matilda in 1148, and  subsequently  refounded by Queen Eleanor in 1273.  After the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in the early sixteenth century, the hospital remained in use as such, but the collegiate church became a parish church. 

Site of church in St Katharine’s Dock

The hospital and church were demolished in 1825, to make way for the construction of St Katharine’s Dock, and were then refounded in Regent’s Park, and later refounded again in Limehouse.   The Jacobean pulpit salvaged from the church still survives, in St Katharine’s  in Regent’s Park.