Category Archives: London Churches


Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Beckenham  was first recorded in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 862 as Biohhahema mearcae, from the Old English personal name Beohha, ham, meaning homestead or village, and mearc, meaning mark or boundary.  It remained essentially rural for much of its later history, only really beginning to become  (sub)urbanised in the nineteenth century, after the arrival of the railway in 1857.  Historically part of the county of Kent, it is now part of the London Borough of Bromley, created in 1965.

Part of the thirteenth-century manor house has been incorporated into the Old Council Hall.  The seventeenth-century George Inn also still stands, on the High Street.

Church of St George

St George, Beckenham (lych-gate) - Copy.jpg

The church of St George was originally built in the twelfth century, and subsequently substantially rebuilt at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth.  It was damaged by V-1 flying bombs in 1944.

The lych-gate dates to the thirteenth century, and is said to be the oldest in England.


Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Erith was first recorded in Saxon times, in 677, as Earhyth, from the Old English ear, meaning muddy, and hyth, meaning landing-place (although it is thought to have been first settled in prehistory).

The Manor of Erith was held by the Norman Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent at the time of the Domesday survey in 1086.  The Lord of the Manor during the reign of the first Plantagenet King, Henry II, was Richard de Luci, Justiciar of England, who, as an act of penance for his complicity in the murder of Thomas Becket, founded Lesnes Abbey nearby in 1178 (see also posting of August 10th, 2015).  The first leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, which took place during the reign of Richard II in 1381, was one Abel Ker, from Erith.

Erith grew further in size and significance in the post-Medieval period.  The  Tudor  King  Henry VIII founded  a naval dockyard here, where warships built at Woolwich, notably the Great Harry,  were fitted out (see also posting of November 26th, 2016).   And it was here that the Gunpowder Plotters gathered to plot the overthrow of the Stuart King James I in 1605.

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed still further expansion, with the  Wheatley family as Lords of the Manor.  The North  Kent Railway arrived in 1849, and with it urbanisation and industrialisation.

Historically part of Kent, since 1965 Erith has been part of the London Borough of Bexley.

Church of St John the Baptist


The church of St John the Baptist was originally built  in Saxo-Norman times.  It was subsequently rebuilt in the post-Medieval period, in part out of materials salvaged from Lesnes Abbey after it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1525 (the abbey would have been but  a short cart-ride away to the north-west).  It was substantially rebuilt again in 1877.


The church of All Hallows by the Tower

IMG_20151208_172408 - Copy

On this day in 1650, seven barrels of gunpowder stored by the church of All Hallows by the Tower exploded, destroying fifteen houses, and killing sixty-seven people.

The church was originally built in the Saxon period, and considerably added to in the Medieval.  It was undamaged in the Great  Fire of 1666, thanks to the action of Admiral General Sir William Penn Senior, who ordered  the blowing-up of some surrounding buildings to create a  firebreak, although it nonetheless required to be rebuilt by Pearson in the late nineteenth century. It was then gutted by bombing in the Blitz of 1940-41, when “the tower of the church acted like a chimney, drawing the flames upwards and intensifying them” and “wood blazed, stones calcinated, lead poured down walls and the bells melted”, and rebuilt again by Lord Mottistone in a “happy blend” of Ancient and Neo-Perpendicular styles, and rededicated in 1957.

A fine Saxon arch of around 675, incorporating Roman tiles, survives in the nave; and two Saxon crosses, one of 900 and the other of 1000, in the crypt  (the former plain and simple, and bearing  a Runic inscription, and the latter  beautifully and intricately carved, and bearing  a symbolic depiction of Christ over beasts). Among the  many surviving Medieval to post-Medieval features are: substantial sections of tiled floor; an altar table of stone from the Crusaders’ castle at Atlit below Mount Carmel in the Holy Land; a fine Flemish painted panelled altar-piece, known as the Tate Panel, dating to at least the fifteenth century; numerous sculptures, including a carved wooden one of St James of Compostela, dating to the fifteenth century, and a carved ivory one of Christ salvaged from the flagship of the Spanish Armada in 1588; numerous monuments, including the Croke chest, dating to around 1477, and brasses; and the seventeenth-century tower, from which Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of 1666 (noting in his diary entry for Wednesday 5th September, “I up to the top of Barkinge steeple, and there saw the saddest sight of desolation I ever saw”). Also of note are the pulpit, originally from St Swithin London Stone, and dating to 1678; the exquisitely intricately carved lime-wood font-cover by Grinling Gibbons, dating  to 1682; a series of ornamental sword-rests, dating to the eighteenth century; and, among the Curiosa, numerous large model ships suspended in the south aisle.

On a macabre note, the headless bodies of Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More, beheaded on nearby Tower Hill in 1535, and that of Archbishop William Laud, beheaded  in 1645, were once temporarily buried here before being moved to their  final resting places (Fisher’s and More’s in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London, and Laud’s in the chapel of St John’s College, Oxford).  Admiral William Penn’s son, also named William, was baptised here in 1644.  Famously, he went on to found Pennsylvania in 1681.

The church is visited on our “London Wall” and “Tower to Temple” standard walks, and also on our “Dark Age [Anglo-Saxon] London”, “Medieval London” and “Medieval City Highlights”  themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (


Reversal of Fortune (1621)

On this day in 1621, the Fortune Theatre, built by “Good Master” Edward Alleyn in 1600, burnt down.


The site of the theatre is marked by a plaque on Fortune Street.

Fortune Theatre window, St Giles Cripplegate

Edward Alleyn and Fortune Theatre windows, St Giles Cripplegate.JPG

Both the theatre and Alleyn are commemorated in a stained glass window in the church of St Giles Cripplegate.

Readers interested in further information on the theatre and on the contemporary scene are referred to Julian Bowsher’s excellent recent book entitled “Shakespeare’s London Theatreland” (Museum of London Archaeology, 2012).

London’s Elizabethan, Jacobean and Restoration theatre scene is also discussed, and a number of associated sites, although not that of the “Fortune”, are visited,   on various of our walks, including the “Tudor and Stuart London” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (

The Putney Debates (1647)


On this day in 1647, in the midst of the Civil War, the so-called “Putney Debates” began in the church of St Mary The Virgin.

The debates, chaired by Cromwell and attended by officers and men of his New Model Army, many of whom were “Levellers”, addressed  nothing of less import than the post-Civil War future and constitution of England.

Among the issues discussed were not only whether power should be vested in the King and House of Lords or in the Commons, but also whether there should be universal – male – suffrage (“one man, one vote”).  Colonel Thomas Rainsborough (*), personifying the radical contingent, famously argued that:

“ … [T]he poorest hee that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest hee … ”.

Among the outcomes was a declaration of “native rights” for all Englishmen, including  freedom of conscience, and equality before the law.

The Civil War is discussed on various of our walks, including the “Tudor and Stuart London” and “Rebellious London” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (


(*)   Rainsborough went on to be killed during the siege of Pontefract, and to be buried in the church of St John in Wapping on November 14th 1648.

For a fuller account of his extraordinary life, the reader is referred to “The Rainborowes” by Adrian Tinniswood.

The wrong kind of tornado, the church of St Mary-le-Bow, and “Citizen Smith”


On this day in 1091, a tornado hit London, killing two persons and destroying 600 houses and the church of St Mary-le-Bow, also known as Bow Church, on Cheapside (*).  The church was virtually  levelled by the tornado, the force of which drove four 26’  rafters vertically into the ground (*).

2- Flying dragon weather-vane

1-St Mary-le-Bow

It was rebuilt, only to be substantially burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, with only the crypt surviving, and subsequently rebuilt again by Christopher Wren.

3-Statue of John Smith

There is a statue of Citizen and Cordwainer Captain John Smith (1580-1631) in Bow Churchyard, adjoining St Mary’s.  Smith sailed on the “Susan Constant” from Blackwall to found the first permanent English settlement in America, in  Jamestown, Virginia, in 1606, “from which began the overseas expansion of the English-speaking peoples” (a plaque on what is now Virginia Quay in Blackwall commemorates the event).    He is buried in the church of St Sepulchre, Newgate Street.  Incidentally, the  Algonquin  princess Pocahontas, who famously saved Smith’s life in America in 1607, visited London in  1616-17, with her by-then husband the tobacco planter John Rolfe, staying at the Bell Savage Inn off Ludgate Hill.  She died in Gravesend in 1617.

The church of St Mary-le-Bow is visited, although not entered, on  our  “Tower to Temple” standard walk, and on our “Rebellious London” themed special (being associated with the rebellion of  “William Longbeard” in 1196).

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Our Guided Walks” section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (

(*) From accounts of the damage, meteorologists estimate that the  tornado would have rated T8 on the T scale, which runs from T1 to T10, with winds in excess of  200 mph.

The “Lion Sermon” and the church of St Katharine Cree

Gayer plaque, St Katharine Cree

The “Lion Sermon” is given at the church of St Katharine Cree on the  Thursday nearest to this day each year, and  has been since 1643, in remembrance of the Merchant Adventurer (of the Levant Company) and later Lord Mayor of London Sir John Gayer being spared by a lion in Syria on October 16th of that year.


The church itself was originally built in the grounds of Holy Trinity Priory sometime before 1291 (being mentioned in the Taxatio Ecclesiastica of Pope Nicholas IV), and possibly around 1280, and rebuilt between  1500-4, in the Gothic style, and again between 1628-31, this time in the Renaissance style.  It was undamaged by the Great Fire of 1666, although later required to be restored  in 1878-9, and again, after being damaged by bombing in the Blitz of the Second World War, in  1956-62.


The interior contains some Gothic elements, such as the east window, in the form of an elaborately stylised Katharine Wheel, and the intricately ribbed ceiling; and some Renaissance ones, such as the Corinthian columns in the nave.  It also contains monuments to Sir Nicholas Throkmorton (d. 1570) as well as to  Sir  John Gayer (d. 1649).  The church was  consecrated in 1631 by Archbishop Laud, who went on to be executed in 1645 for his close association with the then-king, Charles I, and for his persecution of Puritans. The Father Smith organ, once played by Purcell and Handel, dates to 1686.

It  is visited on various of our walks, including the “Tudor and Stuart London” and “Tudor and Stuart City Highlights” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (