The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 3

Allen, Thomas


St. Mary le Bow.


This church is situated on the south side of , in rear of the houses between and the church-yard. As the mother church of the peculiars of the archbishop of Canterbury, and the consequent sitting in ancient times of the court of arches within the walls, it has ever enjoyed a pre-eminent station above the parochial churches of the metropolis; and from the same circumstances it has been equally distinguished by the superiority of its architecture. Hence the additional name of



de arcubus,

was derived from the circumstance of this being the parochial church in the metropolis built with


as arches were then vulgarly termed; although this appellation has become obsolete, an arched gateway at Lincoln, still called

the Stone Bow,

as well as the village of Bow, in Middlesex, which was so called from the ancient stone bridge still existing, may be adduced as corroborative evidences of the present church having derived its name from this construction ; and it is not at all improbable, that the arches in the vaults under the present building may be some of the identical


which designated the church. Mr. Malcolm thinks it probable that the cognomen was derived from the bows, or flying arches, in the old steeple. This conjecture is ingenious, but it falls to the ground when it is recollected that the steeple was only built in the century, and that the church was known by its present name at least centuries earlier.

The earliest erection of the church is involved in obscurity.

In , according to Stow, the building was damaged by a violent hurricane. In the Hen. III.

the v Kal of Feverer, the yere of our L. AMIcclxx, the stepil of the chirch of Seynt Marie at the Bowe fel down in Chepe, and perysed moche


This accident, with the circumstances which arose out of it, is stated in the Iter. Roll. for London, comprising entries of the pleas of the crown held during that and several preceding and subsequent years. A correct transcript of the record, is given in the Gentleman's Magazine. By which it appears, that the stone and other materials of the Bell Tower, valued at , which became forfeited to the king as a deodand, were restored by him to the prior and convent of the church of Christ at Canterbury.


This accident is a proof of the steeple being then a structure of considerable antiquity, and from its falling into must have been situated near the present . It was rebuilt in , and stood until , when it was again rebuilt, or materially altered. Of this latter structure, a view is preserved, not only in the general view of the metropolis by Hollar, but in a brass seal made by the parish in , which is engraved in the Gentleman's Magazine. It shows the upper story of the steeple, with the following legend: . From this source, the view of the steeple in the annexed plate is derived. The battlements and windows are in the style of the period; at the angles were turrets of the same style of architecture as the tower of St. Mary, Aldermary, but hollow within, and pierced with apertures. From these turrets sprung flying buttresses, which, uniting in a common centre, sustained at their junction a turret; all , we are told by Stow, were glazed, and used as beacons, or land light-houses, on winter nights, to direct travellers to the metropolis. From this steeple sir Christopher Wren took the idea of his beautiful tower and spire of St. Dunstan's in the East, the admiration of every connoisseur and man of science.

This tower, having suffered by the fire in , was taken down; and sir Christopher Wren, finding his resources ample, determined to produce a successor which should at once redound to the honour of its architect, and be worthy of the parish church of the metropolis in the world. With this view, he determined on bringing forward his new structure to the street, and the site of houses was purchased to make way for it. In digging to a great depth to insure a firm foundation, the architect came to the ancient Roman causeway eighteen feet below the level of the street; and so firm was this pavement, that he determined on building his superstructure upon it. The old church, according to Wren, stood feet back from the high street. In preparing the


foundations for the new structure,

a foundation was discovered firm enough for the intended fabric, which (on further inspection, after digging down sufficiently and removing what earth or rubbish lay in the way) appeared to be the walls, with the windows also, and the pavement of a temple or church of Roman workmanship, entirely buried under the level of the present street.

If sir Christopher Wren had studied the magnificent structures raised in this country by native architects in the and centuries, he would not have mistaken a Norman church for a Roman temple. He was led into this mistake by the round arches of the building: having been accustomed to treat all the ancient buildings in the country with pointed arches (called by him


) as barbarisms, he never supposed workmen, whom he held in such profound contempt, could construct arches which would not shrink from a comparison with Roman works; and the excellence of which is proved by the deception into which so great a master was led by them. The crypt still exists, and will be noticed hereafter.

The steeple naturally claims priority in description. The plan is a square, with massive piers at the angles; in the south-eastern a winding staircase. The elevation shows a tower and spire; the former is divided into principal stories. In the north front, which ranges with the houses in , is a handsome entrance in the lower story. It consists of an arched doorway, with cherubic heads in the spandrils, between Doric columns sustaining their entablature, and a blocking-course, on which are seated boys; in the wall above is an oval, and the whole is enclosed in an arched frontispiece rusticated. This entrance is repeated in the west front. The south is built against by the vestibule communicating with the church, and the east side is concealed by a house. In the north front, above the doorway, is a blank window fronted by a balcony, which communicates with the church by a small door; and on each side is a round-headed niche. This story is finished with a cornice. The story commences with a plain stylobate, from the north front of which the dial projects; each front of this story is uniform, and contains an arched window between coupled pilasters of the Ionic order, sustaining their entablature, which is surmounted by a ballustrade above the centre, and by an attic over the pilasters. From this point the elevation quits the square, and takes a circular form; the diminution of the spire commences here, but which is began and carried on so harmoniously, that the whole appears to be a continued cone rather than an assemblage of independent portions. To avoid an appearance of


abruptness in the change from a square to a circular plan, the architect has happily adopted an idea from the pinnacles which are found at the angles of ancient English towers. At every angle of the parapet is a group consisting of cartouches; their bases disposed at the corners of a square, the heads united in a common centre, and crowned with an urn, forming a neat and appropriate pyramidal ornament. The structure above the tower is in stories. The represents a small circular temple; it is composed of a stylobate sustaining a peristyle of columns, crowned with an entablature, and surmounted with a ballustrade. The columns are of a composed order, being an union of the Doric and the Corinthian. From this story, within the parapet, spring flying buttresses, situated over the columns of the peristyle. The cylindrical cella of the lower story is contained within the buttresses, and the whole sustains a story, consisting of an elegant little temple of the composite order having its stylobate, and a peristyle of columns sustaining their entablature. The square form again commences over this story, on which cartouches support an obelisk, which completes the and last story; it is capped with metal, and crowned with a vane of copper in the form of a dragon with expanded wings, having the cross of St. George painted on them, adopted in compliment to the city, being the supporter of the arms of the corporation. The dragon is feet inches long; it works on an Egyptian pebble. The spindle is of polished steel.

Internally, the tower consists of stories; the lower is enriched with a dentil cornice, and is covered with a vaulted ceiling of stone, with an aperture in the centre. Above this are stories to the base of the Ionic pilasters; the upper serving as an apartment for the bell-ringers. On the next floor are the bells, and here the angles of the walls are gradually filled up to reduce the square to a circle which it becomes a little below the exterior entablature. Over this is a parabolic dome, which is admirably constructed to support the immense weight of the superstructure.

The plan of the church is nearly square; it shows a body and side aisles connected with the tower by a vestibule attached to the north aisle. The western elevation has a semicircular arched window in the vestibule, and a larger window between smaller ones of the same form in the body of the church. Beneath the central window is an arched doorway covered with an elliptical pediment, and over the side windows are circular ones. The elevation finishes with a pediment, having a circular window in the tympanum. The aisles have no windows in this point of view. The south side is made into a centre with wings, elevated on a plain socle; the former portion has an arched doorway (now disused), surmounted with an angular pediment, with a circular


window above it; the wings, which retire behind the line of their centre, have each a semicircular-headed window. The elevation finishes with a cornice and parapet. The east front is a copy of the western, except the entrance, which is omitted. In the socle are round headed windows lighting the crypt. Corresponding in situation with the vestibule is a vestry, lighted by a Venetian window, in the east end. The north side is concealed by houses from public observation: it has a single circular window. The walls have an ashlaring of Portland stone, and the angles are strengthened by rustics.

The interior is approached by the entrance in the west front, and by the basement story of the tower, which leads, as before observed, into a vestibule, which is nearly square in plan, groined and separated from the church by an oak screen.

The body of the church is made into a nave and side aisles, separated by square piers capped with acanthine cornices, from which spring semicircular arches, on each side of the church; the key-stones are carved with cherubic heads. To the internal face of each pier is attached a semicolumn of the Corinthian order, sustaining its entablature, and a rich modillion cornice; the latter alone is used in the intercolumniations, the architrave and frieze being omitted to let in the arches. The shafts of the columns are painted in imitation of Sienna, the capitals and entablature of veined marble. The east and west ends are uniform; they are respectively made into divisions by semi-columns as before; but above the interlocumniations of these portions, a part only of the cornice is retained; the corona, with its modillions, being denuded; the shafts of the columns at the east end resemble lapis lazuli with gilt capitals and enrichments; the principal order is here surmounted by an attic, the cornice of which is enriched with acanthines, and over the pilasters are urns. The ceiling is arched elliptically, to which the cornices of the side elevations serve as imposts; it is crossed by arches, and divided longitudinally by parallel bands into various pannels; and pierced laterally with a clerestory of low arched windows, on each side; the ceiling of the aisles consists of arches pierced laterally with others to keep up the communication; the soffits of all are perfectly plain. A settlement has taken place some time in the building, which has occasioned the introduction of iron ties at the east and west ends; the galleries in the aisles, as well as that over the western entrance, which contains the organ, are modern compared with the main structure; the fronts of all are perfectly plain. The altar is executed in oak; it consists of a principal and attic orders; the former Corinthian; the attic is surmounted with an elliptical pediment, and painted with a rich star encircling the Hebrew name of the Deity. A small sprinkling of carved foliage relieves the screen, which is far from being so handsome as might be expected, and is injured in effect by the large naked window above it. The pulpit grouped with the


reading desk at the south side of the centre aisle, is not remarkable for its ornament; the sounding board is very large, and rendered unsightly by its excessive plainness. The font, situated at the south side of the western entrance, is a plain poligonal basin of white marble sustained on a balluster; it is inscribed

The gift of Francis Dashwood, esq.



Beneath the north gallery, at the east end of the church, is a shield bearing the following arms, viz. or a chevron trefoils slipped impaling quarterly and a chevron embattled and counter embattled or and a chevron engrailed and counter engrailed between talbots statant

Near this is a tablet inscribed-

Dame Dyonis Wiliamson, of Hales-hall, in the county of Norfolk, gave to the inhabitants of this pariah


towards the rebuilding and splendid finishing this church and steeple, and furnishing the same with bells, &c. which were demolished by the late dreadful fire, A. D.



In the clerestory windows, near the west, are shields of arms in stained glass, nearly obliterated, but the southern is probably the arms of the pious benefactress lady Williamson.

The monuments are not numerous. On the north side of the western entrance is a large composition of marble to the memory of Col. Charles Bainton, died . Also Elizabeth his wife, who died , with bustos of himself and his lady, in relief.

Near the north is a plain sarcophagus with an inscription to the family of Cart, of this parish, surmounted by a well executed bust of the deceased in the undress costume which marks the likenesses of Thomson and other poets. At the back of the bust are Corinthian columns, sustaining a broken elliptical pediment. On the base is

J. Potter, arct.


S. Tuffnell, sculp.

On the south side of the altar is the splendid cenotaph, erected to the memory of bishop Newton. On the front is a circle containing a bust of the deceased; upon the whole composition reclines a large statue of Faith, accompanied with sacerdotal insignia which also decorate the iron rails.

The following inscription is upon the monument:--

In thee the fairest bloom of opening youth,

Flourished, beneath the guard of Christian truth.

That guiding truth to virtue form'd thy mind,

And warm'd thy heart to feel for all mankind;

How sad the change my widow'd days now prove!

Thou soul of friendship and of tender love.

Yet holy faith one soothing hope supplies,

That points our future union to the skies.

Sacred to the memory of Thomas Newton, D.D. twenty-five years' rector of this church, dean of St. Paul's, and bishop of Bristol. He resigned his soul to his Almighty Creator, Feb. 14. 1782, in the 79th year of his age.

His remains were, according to his desire, interred under the south aisle of St. Paul's.Vide, ante, p. 341. Reader, if you would be further informed of his character, acquaint yourself with his writings. His second wife, who had the happiness of living with him in the most perfect love upwards of twenty years, has caused this monument to be placed as a testimony of her affection and gratitude to the kindest husband and most benevolent friend.

A better taste would have suggested that the representation of the person commemorated by the monument, should have been more prominent.

The dimensions and ground plan of this church are taken from the Temple of Peace at Rome. It appears to have been the architect's wish to have erected a piazza on the site of the houses on the north side of the church, an engraving of the design still remaining in the vestry. The design for the steeple was less ornamental than the present, and was on its rejection adapted to St. Magnus' church.

The present church was finished in , at an expense of The steeple was began in , and finished in . The dragon being mounted in , on which occasion Jacob Hall, the famous rope-dancer, ascended on its back. The whole expence was .

Owing to the injudicious use of iron by the architect, the steeple has been several times repaired since its erection. In , the dragon was taken down, and the upper part of the steeple repaired by Mr. afterwards sir Wm. Staines, at an expense of

In , the church was thoroughly repaired, and on examination of the spire, it was found greatly decayed, and out of the perpendicular. In , the parish determined on taking down the injured portions of the spire, and rebuilding the same; and for this purpose George Gwilt, esq. F. S. A. was employed as the architect; under this gentleman's superintendance, the whole was taken down and accurately restored; the portions of the new work most likely to suffer from the weather were executed in granite. The belfry was secured by iron ties, surrounding it internally and externally, the latter being bedded in the masonry, and space allowed for expansion. The weight of these ties is about tons. The last stone of the restored spire was laid on Saturday , and on Tuesday the , the dragon, which had been regilt, was raised, and as the clock struck , lowered on its spindle, of the masons ascending on the back of the animal as Hall had previously done.


An additional interest is given to this church by the existence of an arched crypt beneath the basement of the present building, the remains of which display, perhaps, the most perfect and curious relic of ancient London, in existence. The style of architecture is the circular Norman of the century, and, from the extent of the crypt, some idea may be formed of the magnitude and


grandeur of the ancient church. The accompanying engraving comprises the ground plan, and the best view of the architecture existing, and which will sufficiently elucidate the following description: The plan shews a centre, with side aisles, divided by partition walls of great thickness and solidity, and communicating with each other by openings; the central aisle is subdivided at the eastern extremity, by ranges of columns, into aisles, the continuation of which, westward, is cut off by modern brick work.

The columns are cylindrical, with regular bases set upon square plinths, and the capitals are also square, convexed, and diminished, to unite with the shafts, and surmounted by abaci; the height of the columns, including the capital and base, is feet inches; the side walls are broken at intervals, corresponding with the intercolumniations, by piers, composed of pilasters of different breadths, in advance of each other; they are capped by a plain impost moulding, and, conjointly with the insulated columns, sustain the groined roof of stone, which has been repaired in brick work; this part formed a large and regularly built sub-chapel, of which the portion remaining open formed the chancel. The northern side aisle is much broken into by alterations; from the eastern angle our view is taken. The southern aisle still remains perfect. The communication between these and the grand central aisle is kept up by well turned semicircular arches without imposts; the simplicity of the architecture, as well as the excellence of the construction, is very creditable to the age, and so much do they resemble Roman works, that it is not surprizing that sir Christopher Wren, who was ill acquainted with our ancient buildings, should mistake this crypt for a Roman temple. The south aisle is in a perfect state; it is made in length by piers as before into divisions, vaulted in stone, and groined, and in the whole composition a severe and bold character is displayed; the vaulting is of the same description as is found in all the early Norman churches. A home specimen may be seen in the priory church of St. Bartholomew in . The materials of which the vault, with the walls and pillars are constructed, is the Caen stone of Normandy. The whole of the crypt is appropriated to the reception of the dead. An interesting natural curiosity may be seen in human bodies, in which the flesh has decayed, leaving the skeleton entire, covered with the skin as perfect as alive; , the least perfect, has attained a dark hue by age, the other, a female, which is preserved in a glazed case, retains its natural colour, a ghastly remnant of mortality.

At the time of the late repairs, the vaults were cleared out, and the foundations inspected; in removing the coffins the bodies were discovered. The expense of these latter repairs amounted to about The highest credit is due to the inhabitants of the united parishes, for the care taken of the church and spire, in the


preservation of which they have proved themselves worthy to be the guardians of so valuable a trust.

The dimensions are as follows:

From the pavement in street to the bottom of the vault136
From bottom of old church to foundation of steeple50
Height of Steeple.
From the pavement of the street to the upper cornice of the square tower1220
From cornice of tower to ditto of first peristyle370
From cornice of first to ditto of second peristyle380
Obelisk and vane380
Total height of steepleThese dimensions are taken from the section given in Britton's, public buildings. The communication in the Gents. Mag. before quoted, makes the height but 221 feet.2350
The new work is said to be six inches higher than the old.
Square of tower326

The account of this church would be imperfect if it did not notice the bells, the celebrity of which has rendered the name of the church a proverb. They are mentioned as early as , in which year an order of common council directed them to be rung regularly at P. M.

The keeper of the bells, however, did not always pay such strict attention to the ringing the bells at a proper hour, as the city apprentices thought was due to the sacredness of those hours appropriated by common consent to mirth and recreation. They resolved, therefore, to give the clerk an admonitory hint on the subject, and, with this view, affixed the following pasquinade to the walls of the church:--

Clerk of the Bow Bell, With the yellow locks, For thy late ringing, Thy head shall have knocks.

The clerk, sensible of the danger he run from these dispensers of club law, wrote for answer, in equally good poetry:--

Children of Cheap, Hold you all still, For you shall have the Bow Bells ring at your will.

A citizen, of the name of John Donne, left houses in Hosier (now , for the maintenance of the great bell. After the


great fire, the sum of paid by the city for the purchase of the site of Allhallows church and yard, for the erection of Honey-lane market, was appropriated to purchase new bells. The belfry was prepared for , but only were placed in it; in the great bell was cracked, and the peal was made good at an expense of In a petition was presented to the vestry, from several respectable citizens, setting forth the bad state of of the bells, and praying for leave to recast them at their own expense, and to add trebles; after an examination of the steeple by Messrs. Dance and Chambers, architects, the petitioners were allowed to set up a new peal, and the present bells were, in consequence, rung on the , being his late Majesty's birth-day. The bells have been put in order twice since that period; the weight is as follows:--

In the fears of the parishioners having been created by the fall of a stone from the cornice of the tower, the bells were examined, and the wood work was found out of order; in consequence, further ringing has been suspended, except on extraordinary occasions. In the vestry, which is a spacious apartment, at the northern side of the church, is a well executed bust of Charles II., and several plans of estates belonging to the parish.

North of this church, between the church-yard and the end of , stood the building, called the crown-sild, or shed, in which the royal family and their attendants took their stations, to see the justings, processions, &c. Alter the fall of the wooden stage, in , Edward III. caused a spacious stone building to be erected here; which continued to be used for this purpose until the time of Henry IV. who, in the year of his reign, sold it to Stephen Spilman, and others. And in Bow church-yard stood of the public grammar schools founded by Henry VI. This venerable piece of antiquity remained until the year ; though the purposes for which it was erected had been long discontinued. This church, which is the chief of the peculiars in the city belonging to the see of Canterbury, is a rectory, the patronage of which appears to have been always in the archbishop. After the fire, the


parishes of Allhallows, Honey-lane, and , were annexed to it, both of which are in Cheap-ward.

The celebrated metaphysical lectures, instituted by the honourable Robert Boyle, have been generally preached at this church. This gentleman vested a sum of per annum intrustees, to be applied for preaching sermons yearly, viz. on the Mondays of January, February, March, April, May, September, October, and November, by such minister and at such church, as the trustees should think proper: but no preacher to be continued longer than years. The object of these sermons is to prove and establish the Christian religion against Pagans, Jews, Mahometans, Atheists, and Deists; but not to interfere in controversies among Christians.

is so called from the budge fur and skinners residing there.

In the autumn of , several houses in having been pulled down, the cellars were found to contain the remains of an ancient vaulted crypt.--It is described in the Gent. Mag. to be about feet from north to south, and about feet in breadth; arches in length were disclosed, and the whole had once been vaulted with chalk; the arches were of the low pointed form which came into use in the century; at the points of intersection were bosses without ornament, having a concavity in the centre. On the east side appeared some remains of a door. In the work referred to, the remains are erroneously supposed to be part of the church of St. Mary, Aldermary, for which there is not the least foundation; the remains, which were only removed in the present year, were evidently of the same description as the strong vaulted apartments which constituted the basement stories of most of the ancient mansion houses formerly existing in the metropolis.


[] Lond. Red.vol. ii, p. 150.

[] Chron. of London.

[] Vol. xciii. pt. ii. p. 38

[] Vol. xciii. pt. i. p. 305.

[] A donation of £ 2,000 was given by dame Dyonis Williamson, of Hale's hall, Norfolk, towards the erection and beautifying the steeple; which, in conjunction with other liberal subscriptions, enabled the architect to give full scope to his genius.

[] Parentalia, p. 265.

[] Parentalia, p. 265.

[] It has been supposed that this gallery was erected for the convenience of ladies to view the procession on Lord Mayor's day; the house which was pulled down for the erection of the steeple having been the ancient Crown side.

[] Britton's Edifices of London, vol. 1. p. 138.

[] Vide a communication to the Gent. Mag., vol. xc. pt. 2, p. 223, from which considerable information has been derived.

[] Gents. Mag. xc., pt. 2, p. 391.

[] See vol. i. p. 108.

[] Vol. xc. pt. 11, p. 203.

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 Title Page
 CHAPTER I: The site, extent, buildings, population, commerce, and a view of the progressive increase of London
 CHAPTER II: List of the parishes and churches in London, with their incumbents, &c
CHAPTER III: History and Topography of Aldersgate Ward
CHAPTER IV: History and Topography of Aldgate Ward
CHAPTER V: History and Topography of Bassishaw Ward
CHAPTER VI: History and Topography of Billingsgate Ward
CHAPTER VII: History and Topography of Bishopsgate Ward, Without and Within
CHAPTER VIII: History and Topography of Bread-street Ward
CHAPTER IX: History and Topography of Bridge Ward Within
CHAPTER X: History and Topography of Broad-street Ward
CHAPTER XI: History and Topography of Candlewick Ward
CHAPTER XII: History and Topography of Castle Baynard Ward
CHAPTER XIII: History and Topography of Cheap Ward
CHAPTER XIV: History and Topography of Coleman-street Ward
CHAPTER XV: History and Topography of Cordwainer's-street Ward
CHAPTER XVI: History and Topography of Cornhill Ward
CHAPTER XVII: History and Topography of Cripplegate Ward Within
CHAPTER XVIII: History and Topography of Cripplegate Yard Without
CHAPTER XIX: History and Topography of Dowgate Yard
CHAPTER XX: History and Topography of Farringdom Ward Within
CHAPTER XXI: History and Topography of Farringdon Ward Without
CHAPTER XXII: History and Topography of Langbourn Ward
CHAPTER XXIII: History and Topography of Lime-street Ward
CHAPTER XXIV: History and Topogrpahy of Portsoken Ward
CHAPTER XXV: History and Topography of Queenhithe Ward
CHAPTER XXVI: History and Topography of Tower Ward
CHAPTER XXVII: History and Topography of Vintry Ward
CHAPTER XXVIII: History and Topography of Wallbrook Ward