Tag Archives: Wren

St Clement Eastcheap

When the 19th century London Bridge was built to replace the original medieval bridge, the new bridge was built slight further west along the river allowing the old bridge to continue in use until the new bridge was completed.

The construction of the 19th century bridge had quite a dramatic impact on the streets on the north bank of the river. I have already covered some examples in my post on the Ticket Porter in Arthur Street which you can find here, and there were more street changes further north.

Today’s post on the church of St Clement Eastcheap provides us with another example.

St Clement Eastcheap is a modest church in Clements Lane almost at the corner with Cannon Street. The church does not have a spire and the church tower is at the same level as the surrounding buildings so unlike many other City churches, you will not find a spire to help locate the church.

The church does though have a fascinating piece of early 18th century graffiti in one of the most unusual locations, more on this later.

So, to start, here is St Clement Eastcheap in Clements Lane taken from Cannon Street.

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St Clement Eastcheap, located in Candlewick Ward, dates from at least the 12th Century, probably earlier and was originally adjacent to the street Great Eastcheap.

The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Wren between 1683 and 1687. The church suffered very little damage during the 2nd World War which is surprising given the central City location, so the church we see today is much the same as the original Wren construction.

The following map is from the 1940 Bartholomew London Street Atlas. The street plan is also much the same today. St Clement Eastcheap can be seen to the lower right, just above Monument Station.

Clements Lane today, runs between Lombard Street and King William Street which runs on to London Bridge.

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Much of this street plan was created to provide an efficient route onto the new London Bridge with King William Street providing direct access from the major road junction at the Bank.

The extract below from  John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the street plan when the original London Bridge was still in place.

Here, Gracechurch Street runs to Fish Street Hill then on to London Bridge. Compare this with the above map where Gracechurch Street now curves past Monument Station to King William Street and the approach to London Bridge, highlighting the slight westward move of the bridge.

Just above and to the right of the number 3 in the map below can be seen St Clement. Here, St Clements Lane runs down to Great Eastcheap. Note also how Eastcheap is split into Great and Little Eastcheap, with Little Eastcheap remaining to this day, but now called simply Eastcheap.

Stowe states in his 1603 Survey of London that:

“The street of Great Eastcheape is so called of the Market kept, in the east part of the City, as West Cheape is a market so called of being in the West.

This Eastcheape is now a flesh Market of Butchers there dwelling, on both sides of the street, it had sometime also Cookes mixed amongst the Butchers, and such other as solde victuals readie dressed of all sorts.”

Great Eastcheap was lost when King William Street was built, with Great Eastcheap being included in the end of Cannon Street, King William Street and the Gracechurch Street, Eastcheap section by Monument Station.

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When I visited the church, there was an interesting reminder of the geology of the City. When I entered the church, there was a clear blue sky, however on leaving there was a very heavy rain shower and water was streaming down the narrow Clements Lane, carrying various bits of rubbish in the flow. Whilst today, the water disappeared down the nearest drain, this was a graphical reminder of how much of this side of the City slopes down towards the Thames and how in the past the water and rubbish running down these streets would have been carried straight down towards the river.

On entering the church from the street we look straight at the gilded reredos behind the altar.

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There was some redesign of the interior of the church during the Victorian period and much of the ceiling was renewed in 1925.

The interior of the church has always been relatively simple, Stowe summed up the church as “This is a small church, void of any monuments”, and today the church performs a function which would have surprised Stowe. The pews have been removed and half of the floor space is now office space for charities. A good use and which helps the continued occupation of the church.

Looking back towards the entrance with the charity office space to the left. The original oak casing surrounding the organ appears to have a look of surprise, perhaps because of the current use of the church.

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One of the most unique features of the church can be found in the toilets. Modern toilets have been built up against the original wooden wall panelling as can be seen in the photo below. It cannot be seen in the photo due to the lighting and dark panelling, but on the panelling, just to the left of the small wooden table is some very early 18th century graffiti.

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A close up of the graffiti, dating from the year 1703, carved 15 years after the church was completed. A remarkable survival and very surprising to find this in such a location.

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The church also retains some original Bread Shelves, used to store bread ready for charitable distribution.

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To the side of the church is St Clement’s Court, a narrow lane leading to the small churchyard at the rear of the church.

The plaque on the building on the left reads:

Here lived in 1784

Dositey Obradovich

1742 – 1811

Eminent Serbian man of letters

First Minister of Education

in Serbia

The lane also provides access to some of the office buildings that back onto the rear of the church.

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The remaining churchyard is very small with only a couple of in-situ graves. In 1910, Sir Walter Besant wrote of the churchyard:

“In Church Court we come to the ancient graveyard of St Clement, a minute space with one great shapeless tomb in the centre of the asphalt and a few small erect tombstones on the little border running inside the railings”

Not much has changed in the 105 years since that was written.

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And a couple of gravestones which have been relocated up against the wall of adjoining buildings.

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The church of St Clement, Eastcheap is easy to miss when walking in the area, but well worth a visit, including an essential trip to the toilet to see graffiti from 1703.

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St Mary At Hill And Lovat Lane

My posts of last weekend covered some of the extensive damage suffered by the City of London during the war. Fortunately there were areas that escaped with only light, cosmetic damage and have also survived the considerable development in the intervening 70 years. Places remain where it is still possible to get an impression of what London was like as a city of narrow lanes.

The church of St Mary At Hill is best approached not by the road of the same name, but turn off the busy East Cheap / Great Tower Street and head down Lovat Lane. This is the scene which meets you.

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Lovat Lane is a narrow lane that heads down to Lower Thames Street and retains the width of many of the city lanes prior to the war. Buildings face directly onto the lane and we can see the tower of St Mary at Hill which, unusually for a City church, still appears to be higher than the immediate surroundings.

The name Lovat Lane is recent. The lane was originally called Love Lane and was changed around 1939 to avoid confusion with the Love Lane further north off Wood Street. This change also appears to have justified the lane being included on maps. In the Bartholomew’s London Atlas for 1913, Love Lane is included in the index and referenced to the correct grid square in the map, however it is not shown. In the 1940 Bartholomew’s Atlas, the name has now been changed to Lovat Lane and is shown on the map. Various early references attribute the original name as being due to the frequenting of the lane by prostitutes, however this may be wrongly using the same source for the other Love Lane which Stow refers to as being “so-called of wantons”. The new name Lovat was chosen due to the quantity of salmon being delivered to Billingsgate Market from the fisheries of Lord Lovat.

As with many other City churches, a church has been recorded as being on the site since before the 12th century. The church was severely damaged in the 1666 Great Fire and then came under the rebuilding programme of City churches managed by Wren, however it was probably Wren’s assistant Robert Hooke who was responsible for much of the design and reconstruction of the church. The “At-Hill” part of the name is due to the church being located up the hill from Billingsgate and the downwards slope of Lovat Lane is one of the locations where the original topography of the City can still be seen with the streets sloping down from the higher ground down to the river.

Despite the central location of St. Mary, the church survived the blitz, although a fire in 1988 severely damaged the Victorian woodwork, the organ and the ceiling, however the interior has been superbly restored.

Before entering the church, walk past the church and look back up Lovat Lane, again we get a really good impression of what the narrow city lanes would have looked like. Remove the modern-day signage and add some dirt to the road surface and soot stain to the brick walls and we could have travelled back in time.

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Although just as we walk back up to enter the church, the modern-day City intrudes:

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The church prior to the Great Fire, in common with many other City churches of the time had a spire. These were made of wood and covered in lead. In 1479 the church of St. Mary at Hill paid “Christopher the Carpenter” 20 shillings to take down the spire and 53 shillings to rebuild using 800 boards, two loads of lead, nails and ironwork costing 14s 7d.

On entering the church we can see the following carved Resurrection Panel.

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From the information sheet;

“The Last Judgement relief is a very unusual example of late 17th century English religious carving, and most likely dates from the 1670s. Its carver is unknown, but we do know  that the prominent City mason Joshua Marshall was responsible for the rebuilding of the church in 1670-74: his workshop may have produced the relief.  Exactly where the relief was originally positioned is uncertain; most likely it stood over the entrance to the parish burial ground and was brought inside in more recent times.

St. Mary-at-Hill’s relief is one of a small number of Last Judgement scenes carved in later 17th century London.”

We can now enter the main body of the church and a wide space opens up before us, surprising considering the external appearance from Lovat Lane:

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The restoration following the 1988 fire created a very simple interior. The original box pews were lost and not replaced leaving a large open space from where we can look up and admire the interior of the roof, restored following the fire of 1988:

st mary at hill 2Again a surprise given the external appearance of the church from Lovat lane.

Within the church before the Great Fire was a large Rood, a cross or crucifix set above the entry to the chancel. In 1426 a new Rood was installed at St. Mary at Hill and cost £36, a very considerable sum at the time. A great stone arch was built to support the Rood, however in 1496 the arch required underpinning to support the weight and to achieve this the church procured three stays and a “forthright dog of iron” weighing 50 pounds.

At the same time the Rood was renovated and we can get an idea of what this must have looked like by the items that were included in the renovation:

– to the carver for making of three diadems, and of one of the Evangelists and for mending the Rood, the Cross, the Mary and John, the crown of thorns and all other faults

– paid to Underwood for painting and gilding of the Rood, the Cross, Mary and John, the four Evangelists and three diadems

It must have been a very impressive sight. The work was funded through a subscription being raised across the parish. Parishioners contributed a considerable sum towards the upkeep and decoration of their church. In 1487 a parishioner, Mistress Agnes Breten paid £27 to have a tabernacle of Our Lady painted and gilded. In 1519 a parishioner provided a large carved tablet to hang over the high altar at a cost of £20. Thirty years later at the time of the reformation the tablet had to be sold and only raised 4s 8d, a time that marked the end of the type of church decoration that had persisted from the medieval period.

Back towards the entrance is the magnificent organ, built by the London organ manufacturer William Hill in 1848. It is the largest surviving  example of his early work and reputed to be one of the ten most important organs in the history of British organ building. William Hill worked for the organ builder Thomas Elliot from 1825 until Elliot’s death in 1832. He had married Elliot’s daughter so on his death he inherited the company. The Hill’s workshop was London-based in St. Pancras and was known for building organ’s of the highest quality, providing organs for many important locations including Birmingham Town Hall and York Minster. The business continued until 1916 when Hill and Son as the company was known amalgamated with another organ builder Norman and Beard of Norwich. The combined company of Hill, Norman & Beard diversified into cinema organs in addition to church organs, however the limited market for these specialist products resulted in the company closing in the 1970s.

st mary at hill 3The organ was restored following the fire of 1988 and rededicated in 2002.

The church has one more secret to reveal. Step through the side door and we are out into what remains of the churchyard. Totally enclosed on all sides and only accessible either through the church or through the small alley at the far end of the churchyard which leads through to the street of St. Mary-at-Hill.

st mary at hill 9A plaque on the wall informs us that “the burial ground of the parish church of St. Mary-at-Hill has been closed by order of the respective vestries of the united parishes of St. Mary-at-Hill and Saint Andrew Hubbard with the consent of the rector and that no further interments are allowed therein – Dated this 21st day of June 1846.” Following closure, all human remains from the churchyard, vaults and crypts were removed and reburied in West Norwood cemetery.

st mary at hill 10The reference to St Andrew Hubbard is an example of the consolidation of parishes after the 1666 Great Fire, The church of St Andrew Hubbard was not rebuilt and the parish integrated with that of St. Mary at Hill.

Looking back towards the doorway we can see, above the round window some of the original fabric exposed .

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And at the end of the churchyard, one final look back before entering the short alley that takes us into the street of St. Mary at Hill.

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With not too much imagination, Lovat Lane and St. Mary at Hill provide a glimpse of what the City of London was like when many of the City streets were lanes and churches stood tall above their surroundings. Highly recommended for a visit.

St. Mary at Hill is regularly opened by the Friends of City Churches

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Old Churches Of London by Gerald Cobb published 1942
  • Old Parish Life In London by Charles Pendrill published 1937
  • Historic Streets of London by Lilian & Ashmore Russan published 1923
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878
  • Bartholomew’s London Atlas, 1913 and 1940 editions

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