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St Mary-le-Bow is a parish church within the Church of England. Alongside the daily liturgies, we welcome enquiries about weddings, baptisms, preparation for confirmation, as well as memorial services and other commemorations
We are always delighted to hear from couples interested in being married at St Mary-le-Bow. There are some simple formalities that need to be observed to meet the qualifications; click for more information.
Baptisms are conducted regularly at St Mary-le-Bow. Although most of the candidates for baptism are babies and children, it is not unusual for adults to be baptised too. You are welcome to telephone or email with your enquiry, or click for further information.
Confirmation marks the point in the Christian journey where those who have been baptised as children make a firm commitment to Christian discipleship. St Mary-le-Bow prepares and presents candidates for Confirmation at St Paul’s Cathedral each year. Click to find out more.
Commemorations, Memorial Services, Livery Company Services and Christmas Carol Services all feature in our calendar. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss arranging a service here.
Marriage in the Church of England
The Church of England is historically arranged into geographical parishes, and as the law currently stands, you are entitled to be married in the church of the parish in which you live or worship. Very few people live in the parish of St Mary-le-Bow; so if you would like to be married here, there are some simple formalities that need to be observed to qualify in other ways.
+ If you have particular personal or family connections, you may already qualify to marry here. Alternatively:
+ At least one of you needs to attend services regularly for six months and may seek inclusion on the Electoral Roll of the Parish Church. It is usual for one of the parties to have been baptised. There are plenty of services to choose from at various times of day.
+ Because we don’t have Sunday services, we can’t publish ‘Banns of Marriage’. Instead, you’ll need to swear an oath saying that there’s no reason you shouldn’t be married.
+ There are certain fees, some of which are set by the Church of England for the whole country, and some of which pay for ‘optional extras’. These change from time to time, so please ask us.
+ Professional photography is permitted in the church during marriage services, by agreement of the Rector. Audio and video recording will be allowed but by an approved videographer only.
+ Live streaming of wedding services is now possible to enable those unable to travel to London to watch and take part in the service. View highlights from a recent live streamed wedding here.
+ Bell ringing can be arranged for weddings (fees apply), though we cannot guarantee in advance that a band of ringers will be available.
+ There is a choice of forms of the Marriage service itself. To see these texts, click on the links below.
+ If you feel that St Mary-le-Bow might be the right place for your marriage, please telephone or email with your enquiry; there is also much valuable information on the Church of England’s marriage pages (click on ‘further reading’ below).
+ Please note that it is not usually possible to be married during the penitential season of Lent. We have an absolute maximum capacity of 230 guests.
We are always very pleased to meet people and discuss what’s required: please telephone or send an email. More information is also available from the Diocese of London and the Church of England; the latter has launched a new Weddings site; click here to take a look.
Our director of music Thomas Allery guides couples through the process of choosing appropriate music for their marriage services. Some weddings feature as an organ voluntary Alan Wilson’s Toccata on ‘Oranges and Lemons’ – click to listen.
We can arrange live streaming of weddings to enable friends and family around the world to join the service online. Click here to see a recent example – with thanks to Andrew and Dinika.
Baptism for Children
The Church receives children into membership by Baptism with great joy. This is often called ‘christening’ (being made Christ’s). The image of God found in every human person is claimed specifically for Jesus as the pattern for selfless living and community within the family of the Church. It is a great celebration of all the hope and love that childhood promises.
Usually the family will have some association with the parish and it is sometimes necessary to seek the goodwill of the parish priest of the place where the family actually lives. Holy Baptism is administered usually on Sunday or a Feast Day; and it can either be a short said celebration or with organ, hymns and music. There is no fee for Holy Baptism (although the professional musical elements will require payment).
One of the parents of the infant or child must have been baptized and all of the Godparents must themselves have been baptized (although not necessarily Anglican). Where a Godparent cannot actually be present, another baptized person may be appointed to act on that person’s behalf at the service.
Baptism and Confirmation for Adults
Confirmation marks the point in the Christian journey where those who may have been baptised as children, together with those seeking baptism as adults, make a firm commitment to Christian discipleship. Through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop, the Church also asks God to give those being confirmed power, through the Holy Spirit, to live the life of discipleship. St Mary-le-Bow prepares and presents candidates for Confirmation at all stages of the year.
What is Baptism?
+ Holy Baptism (also called Christening) is a sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.
+ Children and adults can be baptised, but adults make the promises for themselves and make their own declaration of Christian faith.
What is Confirmation?
+ If you were baptised as an infant, your parents and godparents made the solemn promise and vow on your behalf. It is necessary as an adult to ratify and confirm it, otherwise, in a way, one remains an infant. St Paul says, writing to the Corinthians, ‘When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.’ In confirmation the Bishop asks, ‘Are you ready with your own mouth and from your own heart to affirm your faith in Jesus Christ?’ This is something only an adult can do.
+ Confirmation is the sacrament that confirms our baptism and strengthens us in the power of the Holy Spirit for our Christian discipleship. The confirmed are also able to receive Holy Communion.
+ The Bishop confirms young people and adults, who have already been baptised, by the laying on of hands and anointing.
+ Adults who have not been baptised previously are baptised by the Bishop and confirmed at the same service.
What promises do I have to make?
+ Adults wishing to be baptised or confirmed must affirm their allegiance to Christ and their rejection of all that is evil by giving the answers to the following questions:
Do you turn to Christ?
reply: I turn to Christ.
Do you repent of your sins?
reply: I repent of my sins.
Do you renounce evil?
reply: I renounce evil.
+ They then also make the profession of Christian faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
How will I be prepared for baptism and/or confirmation?
+ Through attendance at a course, given by the Rector of St Mary-le-Bow, together with personal Bible reading and prayer.
How should I proceed?
If you have already decided that you want to be baptised and/or confirmed, then please send an email to the Parish Office:
If you would like to know more or to discuss being baptised or confirmed, then contact the Rector on 020 7248 5139 or by email: email@example.com
The organs of St Mary-le-Bow
The main organ in the west gallery was built by Kenneth Tickell & Company in 2010, replacing a former instrument by Rushworth & Dreaper. The casework, designed by John Hayward and made by Dove Brothers, dates from the rebuilding of the church in 1964 after its destruction by enemy action in 1941.
The case seems to be loosely based on the work of the Alsace Silbermanns and this French influence was carried into the stop-list. Hence fine mutation registers and reeds with great character. The organ has also a Germanic pleno, rendering it highly suitable for the music of J.S. Bach and other German baroque composers. The French influence enables authentic performances of all periods. In fact, the careful choice and blending of the sensitively voiced registers and the superb ambient acoustic in the church, makes it possible to play almost any style of music with convincing colour, richness and depth.
This organ is highly acclaimed for its ‘singing’ quality. It is also fitted with a MIDI interface, enabling it to drive synthesizers and computers. This opens up a further range of colour, making it possible for other sounds and sonorities, especially those of an avant-garde ‘electronic workshop’ nature (formerly called ‘prepared tape’).
The chamber organ’s origin and builder is unknown, but follows a modest early 19th-century design. It is often used as a continuo instrument, accompanying instruments and voices in the nave.
THOMAS ALLERY has been Director of Music and Organist at St Mary-le-Bow since February 2018.
Thomas Allery enjoys a varied career spanning work as an organist and choral director in church music, continuo playing, research and teaching.
He is Director of Chapel Music at Worcester College, Oxford, where he is responsible for the musical development of the Chapel choirs and organ scholars. He directs and trains the two Chapel choirs, of mixed and boys’ voices, for regular chapel services, concerts, tours and recordings.
Tom is also Assistant Director of Music at St Marylebone Parish Church, London, where he accompanies the professional choir, and is Director of the church’s Youth Choir.
Tom graduated with Distinction from the Masters programme at the Royal College of Music, London, in 2014, where he studied organ with Margaret Phillips and harpsichord with Terence Charlston.
As a harpsichordist and continuo player, Tom has a particular interest in the instrumental music of the 17th-century Stylus Phantasticus. He performs regularly with his own period ensemble, Ensemble Hesperi, with whom he is undertaking research into late 18th-century Scottish Baroque Music.
The Cheapside Chorus
Do you enjoy singing? The Cheapside Chorus made its concert debut at LIVE in the Churchyard 2019, our annual summer music festival. It is open to singers who work in, or regularly visit the City, and especially those who might wish to rekindle enthusiasm for singing. If you enjoy singing, or if you would like to give it a go in this friendly and ambitious new choir, please do consider joining us – details of our next project will be available soon.
To find out more, please email our director of music Thomas Allery: firstname.lastname@example.org
Toccata on ‘Oranges and Lemons’
Composer Alan Wilson writes:
Everyone will know the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’ with its reference to ‘the great bell of Bow’, and the cockney association if one is born within the sound of Bow Bells. The tower clock also chimes every 15 minutes to a melody by C.V. Stanford.
The origins of this toccata date back to an improvisation I did at an organ recital a few years ago and in the summer of 2016 I decided to write it down for future performances. I set about a carefully constructed piece using both the ‘Oranges and Lemons’ tune and the ‘Bow Bells’ carillon chime (on which I had previously written a Mass setting).
The Academy of St Mary-le-Bow
2020 season dates:
The Academy of St Mary-le-Bow was formed in 2016 with the aim of giving young people working in a variety of professions in London the opportunity to play orchestral music to a high standard.
Supported by the Parochial Church Council of St Mary-le-Bow, the orchestra, directed by Alex Fryer and joined by young professional soloists, gave its inaugural concert here in August 2016.
The Academy continues to perform a wide range of orchestral repertoire here and in other London venues in the capital.
A brief History
by Mark Regan
Bow bells are probably the most famous in the world and for many hundreds of years have been woven into the folklore of the City of London. In 1392 Dick Whittington heard Bow bells call him back to London to become Lord Mayor; to be born within the sound of Bow bells was the sign of a true Londoner or Cockney; and Bow bell’s authority ends the medieval nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons, ‘I do not know says the Great Bell of Bow’. During the Second World War the BBC’s World Service broadcast a recording of Bow bells, made in 1926, as a symbol of hope to the people of Europe. This recording is still used as an interval signal.
The first known reference to Bow bells is in 1469 when the Common Council ordered that a curfew should be rung at 9 o’clock each evening. Soon after this John Donne, a mercer, gave the church two houses in Hosier Lane (now Bow Lane) for the maintenance and regular ringing of the bells. In 1515 William Copland, a churchwarden, gave a great bell to the church making five in number. Sadly this bell was rung for the first time for Copland’s funeral. Ringing the curfew bell was stopped in 1876.
Bow church dominated life in the city and the 9 o’clock bell not only marked the curfew but also the end of an apprentice’s working day. The bell was often rung late prompting this rhyme:
‘Clarke of the Bow belle with the Yellow lockes,
For thy late ringing thy head shall have knockes’
To which they received the reply:
‘Children of Cheape, hold you all still,
For you shall have the Bow bell rung as you will.’
Ringing prospered in the seventeenth century and in 1603 the Society of Cheapside Scholars was founded. Fabian Stedman, the father of modern change-ringing, was a member. This society became extinct in 1662. By 1635 the tower contained six bells and in 1643 the bells were rung to celebrate the demolition of the famous Cheapside cross by a crowd of citizens and soldiers loyal to Parliament. The cross was seen as a symbol of Popery. There is a curious reference in the Bodleian Library in Oxford to Bow having twelve bells in 1652 ‘of which ten which were rung and two were tolled’. No evidence has yet been found to prove this claim. Samuel Pepys’ Diaries contain occasional references to Bow bells.
The tower and bells were destroyed in the Great Fire of London in September 1666. Although the new tower was designed for twelve bells the bellfounder, Christopher Hodson from Crayford in Kent, cast a heavy peal of eight for Wren’s new church in 1677. Thomas Lester began Bow’s long association with the Whitechapel bellfoundry when he recast the tenor bell in 1738. The other seven bells were considered inferior and recast in 1762 when two extra bells were also added. The ten bells were first rung to celebrate George III’s 25th birthday.
However the bells were often not rung because of problems with the tower, the bells, the bell frame or a shortage of ringers. In 1820 some stonework fell from the spire into the bedroom of a local merchant in Bow Lane nearly killing him.
In 1856 the bells were silenced by the protestations of Mrs Elisabeth Bird, an eccentric neighbour who feared that the noise of the bells might end her life. After two years’ silence the bells were rung again and Mrs Bird lived to hear the bells for several more years. Recordings survive of the original ten bells by Lester.
The bells were finally augmented to twelve in 1881 and in 1926 they were declared unringable and not rung again. The silence of Bow bells became a matter of national concern.
The restoration and recasting of Bow bells by Gillett and Johnston in 1933 was the gift of H. Gordon Selfridge, the American entrepreneur who had founded his famous store in London’s Oxford Street. This restoration divided ringers’ and public opinion for many years and it has never been proved whether or not Selfridge actually paid for the work. After being heard for only eight years these bells were destroyed on 11 May 1941 by a German air raid during the Second World War. The church deliberately omitted the date of this restoration when the bells were later recast.
The tower now contains a new peal of twelve bells that were cast at the famous Whitechapel bellfoundry in 1956. Salvaged metal from the destroyed bells was reused but the overall weight of the bells was reduced. These bells were rung for the first time on 21 December 1961. They hang 100 feet (30 metres) above the ground in a bell frame made of Javanese Jang. The smallest bell weighs 5 cwt (285 kgs) and the biggest or tenor bell weighs almost 42 cwt (2135 kgs). Each bell has an inscription from a Psalm or New Testament canticle on it, and the first letters of each inscription spell D WHITTINGTON. Much of the cost of rebuilding the tower and recasting the bells was the gift of the Bernard Sunley Charitable Foundation and Holy Trinity Wall Street in New York.
The bells are frequently rung. A group of bellringers working in or near the City rings for the church’s main services. The Ancient Society of College Youths, which was founded in 1637, still has a close association with the bells and its members regularly ring them. The other London ringing societies hold practices too, and ringers from all over the world have rung on the bells. Adjustable sound control ensures that the bells are heard for service ringing but are much quieter for recreational ringing. Little ringing takes place during the working day in consideration for our neighbours.
The first full peal of over 5000 changes was rung on 12 January 1731 by the College Youths. By 1939 only 65 peals had been rung in the tower. The first peal on the new bells was 5007 Stedman Cinques, again by the College Youths on 9 November 1962. Well over 300 peals have been rung on Bow Bells making St Mary-le-Bow the leading peal ringing tower in the City of London.
Thwaites and Reedes installed the electric clock mechanism in 1961 and Smith of Derby replaced the chiming mechanism in 1985. Its capabilities have subsequently been extended, and regular maintenance undertaken, but the Cumbria Clock Company . The unusual tune used to strike the quarters and the hour was composed by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford in 1904.
For many hundreds of years the bells of St Mary-le-Bow have proclaimed the church’s presence in the heart of the City of London and they continue to do so today.
Hear the Sound of Bow Bells
The Windows of St Mary-le-Bow
designed by John Hayward
The windows of St Mary-le-Bow are among the most striking features of the building as restored in 1964. They, together with the other furnishings, vestments etc, were designed by John Hayward (1929-2007) who worked in Faithcraft, a firm which sought to bring the principles of the Liturgical Movement to fruition. The windows are signed (1963) by Hayward in the bottom left of the south east (right) window.
Prior to 1941 the windows depicted scenes from the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Hayward’s new scheme for the east windows encompasses a wall throughout; perhaps the wall of the heavenly city of the Book of Revelation or, of the City of London – or both! Above the three large windows can be seen – in some abstraction – the sun and the moon and, in the centre, the all seeing eye of God, the Eye of Providence, at the apex. Hayward considered this eye to represent God the Father.
Christ in Majesty
The arrangement of the sanctuary before 1941 was a cut down version of an elaborate scheme for a reredos which dated from 1706, combined with an oil painting. This originally included seven gilded candlesticks at an attic level (suggesting the seven golden lampstands representing the seven churches in the Book of Revelation ; Hayward clearly alludes to this in the principal east window of Christ in Majesty in which seven stars are seen to emanate from the right hand of Christ (Revelation 1:20 – ‘the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches’). Hayward adds to this the seven flames around the person of Christ, representing the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; wisdom, understanding, counsel, inward strength, knowledge, true godliness and delight in the fear of the Lord (gifts promised to candidates in the Sacrament of Confirmation). The main figure is of Jesus the Christ, vested as a priest and seated – he is God the Son, and above him hovers the heavenly dove, the symbol of God the Holy Spirit.
The Blessed Virgin Mary
To the north (left) of the sanctuary is depicted the Patron of the parish, the Blessed Virgin Mary, holding (and thus symbolising her care for us) the church built by Wren. She is clothed in blue (the traditional colour for Our Lady) and her feet appear to be resting on the arches of the crypt. Surrounding Our Lady’s image are seventeen Wren churches which survived the Second World War, each held by the patron saint of the parish.
The south (right) window depicts the Patron of the diocese of London, St Paul the Apostle holding the sword with which he was martyred (he was beheaded in Rome in 67AD) and the book of his Letters which are to be found in the New Testament. He is turn is surrounded by 11 churches, together with the Cathedral, which survived the Second World War.
The windows to the West are largely secular in tone and iconography – but not wholly so, for they assert that the City of London is an intermingling of things sacred and secular.
The left window is dominated by the Great Seal of the Lord Mayor of the City, in red with its figures of St Paul and Thomas à Beckett (born in a house on the other side of Cheapside and martyred at Canterbury in 1170). Below the seal is the Mansion House, the residence of the Lord Mayor. The lower half of the window shows the coats of arms of six of the Great Twelve of the Livery Companies of the City: top (from left to right), the Skinners, the Vintners, the Merchant Taylors; bottom, the Haberdashers, the Ironmongers, the Clothmakers. The circular lunette above shows the Lord Mayor’s regalia; the chain of office, the seal, the fur hat of the sword bearer, the purse and, crossed behind – the great mace and the pearl sword.
The right hand window shows the Common Seal in which the figure of St Paul is shown within the City walls, with the sword of his martyrdom in his right hand and the standard of England in his left. Below the seal is the Guildhall, the seat of government in the City of London and the further six coats of arms of the Great Twelve Livery Companies of the City; top (from left to right), the Mercers, the Grocers, the Drapers; bottom, the Goldsmiths, the Fishmongers, the Salters. The lunette above shows the arms of the City of London.
John Hayward considered stained glass to be for the glory of God and an aid to devotion. He signs his composition with the verse of George Herbert (1593-1633):
A man that looks on glass
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.
The Boyle Lectures
The next Boyle Lecture will be given on Wednesday 3 February 2021 at 6.00pm at York Minster (available online) by Professor Tom Mcleish (University of York)
A tradition revived: 2004 to date
The new Boyle Lectures have been given annually at the parish church of St Mary-le-Bow in the City of London since 2004. These lectures are designed to address topics which explore the relationship between Christianity and our contemporary understanding of the natural world.
Each year, a distinguished theologian or scientist is invited to address this theme through a topic of his or her own choosing, and a responder is invited to respond to the lecturer’s comments.
Robert Boyle (1627-91) was one of the most celebrated natural philosophers of the seventeenth century. A gifted experimentalist and innovative thinker, Boyle was also a devoutly religious man who wrote a number of important books of philosophical theology (principally his Discourse of Things Above Reason (1681), Disquisition About the Final Causes of Things (1688) and The Christian Virtuoso (1690)). In these works Boyle reflected deeply on God’s role in the world and the importance of the new experimental science in adding complementary insights to the truths of revealed Christianity set forth in the Scriptures.
Boyle died in 1691. In his Will he set aside funds to establish a lecture series for the defence of the Christian religion against atheists and other unbelievers. The first Boyle Lectures were delivered in 1692 by Richard Bentley, an important protégé of Sir Isaac Newton and later Master of Trinity College Cambridge. Some of Bentley’s lectures were delivered at St Mary-le-Bow, thus establishing a connection between St Mary’s and the Boyle Lectures, which endured for many years.
One of St Mary-le-Bow’s own rectors, the Rev Samuel Bradford DD, rector from 1693 to 1720, delivered the Boyle Lectures in 1699 in which he spoke about “The Credibility of the Christian Religion”. Bradford’s Boyle Lectureship did his ecclesiastical career no harm: he went on to become successively Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, Bishop of Carlisle, Bishop of Rochester and Dean of Westminster Abbey!
The most famous of the Boyle Lectures took place in the 40 years from 1692 until 1731. Although the lectures continued after 1731, the later lectures were perhaps less important than those which took place in the early years of the series. An exception was in 1812, however, when another rector of St Mary-le-Bow, William Van Mildert (later the last of the Prince-Bishops of Durham) delivered that year’s Boyle Lectures at his own church.
A detailed account of the history of the Boyle Lectures will be found in the chapter by Johannes Wienand in St Mary-le-Bow: a history (2007), available here.
A collection of the first ten years of the revived Boyle Lectures at St Mary-le-Bow, Science and religion in the twenty-first century, (2013) edited by Russell Re Manning and Michael Byrne, is available here.
The lecture series has been greatly assisted by generous financial support provided by the Worshipful Company of Grocers, the Worshipful Company of Mercers, and Gresham College. The trustees record their deep gratitude to these institutions for their invaluable support.
The Young Homeless Project
The St Mary-le-Bow Young Homeless project is an independent charitable trust (registration number 1103578).
We began this work with young homeless people in 1990, helped by the Council of St Mary-le-Bow, as we still are. The young people are aged from 19 to about 25, and we can take any except those with severe Class A drug, alcohol or mental problems – because we are only two staff, and cannot give the intense support they need.
We began with some fourteen young people, and now have up to six at a time in flats near Elephant and Castle, rented cheaply from The Peabody Trust. They learn to live in flats with each other – something they’ve never done before. This prepares them for independent living in the most practical way. When they are ready, we help them to their own flats. If they fail, they may come back.
We also work with some thirty young ex-prisoners each year, to prevent them from going back to gaol – the rate of recidivism is 75% with young people. One of the few ways of preventing this is a job – a more enjoyable or less risky alternative to crime.
It takes time for them to repair the damage of early years – lack of discipline, great anger and frustration, which often means that at the beginning, they can’t cope with regular hours and work. But they, and we, keep at it.
The most successful work is done with Pret A Manger and its Foundation. Pret gives three-month apprenticeships and if the young people behave, they get permanent jobs. This scheme has been working for three years and because we are a small charity, Pret introduced others to increase the numbers of young homeless people and young ex-prisoners working with them. Now there are seventy.
This work has an 88% success rate. ‘Success’ rates can be vague things: by ours, we mean that 83% of the young people are still in their jobs after six months, and many for two to three years so far. The reason for this success is that they enjoy the atmosphere, the people and the work of a sympathetic but tough and profitable business.
We work with other employers, but they are reluctant to take young homeless people because they have no experience, or young ex-prisoners because they have a criminal record. As well, many must be rigid in their rules and can’t adapt to the initial tolerances needed to maintain the young people. So not many companies are prepared to give jobs, and Pret’s success, leading to the expansion of the scheme beyond London, stands almost alone. So far.
The aims of this charity, and its results, are that the young people develop confidence and find they can budget, live with others, get a job and keep it, take part in society without depending on the State – you and me. None reverts to being homeless. Ever.
St Mary-le-Bow Young Homeless Project
A limited-edition volume of historical essays on the church and parish of St Mary-le-Bow in the City of London is available now direct from the church.
Founded in or around 1080 as the London headquarters of the archbishops of Canterbury, the medieval church of St Mary-le-Bow survived three devastating collapses before being completely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. Rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, it was destroyed once more in 1941 but was again rebuilt and re-consecrated in 1964.
Topics covered in this 300-page volume include:
+ an overview of the church’s 925-year history
+ its status as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s principal ‘London Peculiar’
+ the crypt
+ the medieval church
+ Bow Church: the wider context
+ the Reformation
+ the Court of Arches at St Mary-le-Bow
+ Wren’s rebuilding of St Mary’s in the 1670s
+ Reforming Societies in the early 17th century
+ the church’s silver collection
+ the Boyle Lectures
+ links with Trinity Wall Street in New York City
+ rebuilding the church in the 19th century and after the Second World War
+ St Mary-le-Bow’s eight ‘other parishes’
+ Bow Bells
+ the future.
The Worshipful Company of Grocers has provided very welcome financial assistance for this project.
A limited number of copies are available for purchase. Price: £42 (includes p&p within the UK) or $90 (includes p&p and a handling charge for postage to the USA and Canada).
You may also purchase copies in person for £35, using cheque, cash or online transfer, at the Vestry between 11.30am and 4.00pm Monday to Friday.
One thousand years of history
St Mary-le-Bow was built c.1080 by Lanfranc, William the Conqueror’s Archbishop of Canterbury who accompanied him from Bec in Normandy. The Norman church – which may possibly have replaced a building of Saxon origin – was part of a policy of dominating London and was constructed out of the same stone as William’s Tower of London imported from Caen; perhaps by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester and architect. The new St Mary-le-Bow may well have been cheerfully disliked by the citizens of Cheapside as an object of oppression.St Mary-le-Bow was built c.1080 by Lanfranc, William the Conqueror’s Archbishop of Canterbury who accompanied him from Bec in Normandy. The Norman church – which may possibly have replaced a building of Saxon origin – was part of a policy of dominating London and was constructed out of the same stone as William’s Tower of London imported from Caen; perhaps by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester and architect. The new St Mary-le-Bow may well have been cheerfully disliked by the citizens of Cheapside as an object of oppression.
The present day crypt – although much altered and fragmentary – gives an idea of the structure (two aisles and a nave) , only partially underground which medieval Londoners will have known. The ‘le-Bow’ or ‘de arcubus’ may perhaps refer to the Norman arches which were something of a novelty. But the crypt was really an undercroft, a subsidiary structure upon which the upper church rested. Of that interior no reliable image (before the Great Fire) survives.
We know that the church included an image of Our Lady, painted and crowned by a legacy in 1348 and altars to St Nicholas, St Agnes, St Thomas Becket (a parishioner), St Katherine and the Holy Trinity. From c.1251 St Mary-le-Bow was the home of the final appeal court of the southern province of the Church and would have been alive to the buzz of clergy and canon lawyers. Although that use fell into desuetude, it seems that Wren, rebuilding after the great fire intended his Vestry for the Court room, and the use of the church for such sittings and ceremonies has been revived in recent decades.
Before the Great Fire there were three significant building projects on this site:
+ Lanfranc’s church of c.1080, heavily damaged in a tornado of 1091
+ A substantially new church built after a fire in 1196, which may well have replicated what had been destroyed
+ The reconstruction of the tower (on the south-west corner) after its collapse into the street in 1271; not completed until 1512
St Mary-le-Bow was thrown into great prominence because it possessed the principal curfew bell, rung at 9pm each day from at least 1363 and because it was the Archbishop’s principal ‘peculiar’ (i.e. although in the middle of London it was in fact in the diocese of Canterbury and remained so until 1850) – and hence the Court of Arches. The sound of Bow bell is that which distinguishes an area in which ‘Cockneys’ are said to be born.
Although the famous pre-fire tower was at the south end of the site and not on Cheapside as suggested in some illustrations, St Mary-le-Bow was with St Paul’s the backdrop for jousting and processions (every monarch or consort until James II processed along Cheapside to their coronations).
At the Reformation, St Mary-le-Bow was at the forefront of the changing times and ideas and one Rector, John Joseph, who later managed to escape the cruelties of Queen Mary Tudor systematically denuded the church of all its statues, vestments, candles and a ‘pair of organs’. Yet it was here that Reginald, Cardinal Pole became ‘Catholic’ Archbishop, although the church was so bare that it had to be hung with ‘gold and arras’ on Lady day and the Roman obedience was briefly restored to England.
After the Great Fire an attempt was made to shore up the old tower, which must have been well loved, but Sir Christopher Wren had the ambition for his second (after St Paul’s) tallest structure by moving the tower to the street and, it seems recalling the old royal box on Cheapside with a balcony high up on the north façade.
Wren had little interest in the crypt – which he seems to have thought was Roman – and simply encouraged its use as a burial chamber. The only access was by a trapdoor and ladder until George Gwilt built the present staircase. A fragment of the medieval staircase – perhaps into the first tower – can be seen in the north west corner of the crypt.
Wren’s design for the upper church took into account the need for a preaching room, rather than a place for Catholic ritual. It was almost completely destroyed by enemy action in May 1941 and not rebuilt (the fourth church) until 1964 by Laurence King, a good part as the London home of the Liturgical Movement.
The parish boundary
The Church of England has responsibility for the pastoral and spiritual care of everyone living in the country, regardless of the individuals’ beliefs or faith commitments.
Geographical parishes guarantee this universal ‘cure of souls’ and St Mary-le-Bow honours the obligations of its distinctive parish ministry by engaging with the businesses of the area.
The map shows the area of the City that falls within the parish of St Mary-le-Bow.
The present Rector
The Revd George R. Bush has been Rector of St Mary-le-Bow since 2002.
Born in London, he trained for ordination at Ripon College Cuddesdon and (briefly) at United Theological College, Bangalore. His academic interests spanned theology, history, canon law and history of art. He was ordained in 1985 to a parish – St Aidan’s – in inner-city Leeds.
He was then student Chaplain of St John’s College, Cambridge, before returning to London, first as Vicar of St Anne’s Hoxton in the East End (but north of the City), and now Rector of St Mary-le-Bow.
He is a Past President of Sion College, and trustee of a number of charities, comprehending his interests in regeneration, FairTrade, mental health and social investment. He has served as Sheriff’s and Lord Mayor’s Chaplain.
He is a Patron of the World Marmalade Festival.
The Parish Archives
Most of our records were probably lost when the church was destroyed by firebombs in 1941. Any remaining records are held by the London Metropolitan Archives. This is true of many of the City churches.
‘St Mary-le-Bow’ is in the heart of the City of London, not in Bow, which is a couple of miles outside the City. If your research has led you to Bow (formerly a village, now a suburb) the likely church is ‘St Mary, Bow’ 020 8981 7916.
Our church, St Mary-le-Bow (Bow, in this instance referring to an architectural feature of the Crypt), has the famous Bow Bells, which rang curfew in the Middle Ages and called Dick Whittington back to London; St Mary, Bow Road was a country church until the 1860s saw London expand.
Dick Whittington heard our bells as he rested on Highgate Hill, and returned to the City where eventually he became Lord Mayor three times. Highgate Hill is five miles from St Mary-le-Bow – so many people can claim to have been born with the sound of the bells, who are not actually connected with the church.
Our Churchyard only has deep burials; others were removed from the Crypt shortly before 1960. St Mary, Bow has a small churchyard surrounding it. But be warned – while once it was a country church, nowadays it sits in the centre of a busy dual carriageway.
We hope this information is helpful and we wish you success in your research.
find out whom to contact at St Mary-le-Bow
The Revd George Bush
The Rector is pleased to hear from anyone wishing to explore marriage, baptism, confirmation, or other pastoral matters. Anyone wanting to see the Rector (or speak to him on the telephone) can generally be sure to find him in on Mondays at 5.00pm (or by appointment).
020 7248 5139
Parish Secretary|Pastoral Assistant
020 7248 5139
For all matters relating to JustShare events, website and information. Shehana is usually available on Thursday and Friday.
020 7248 5139
Director of Music|Organist
Enquiries about organ recitals, music for weddings and general information about music for services at St Mary-le-Bow.
Contact for any matters relating to safeguarding at St Mary-le-Bow. This email address is entirely confidential and not shared with parish church officers.
St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, London EC2V 6AU
020 7248 5139
Current opening times:
Monday to Friday: 08.30 – 17.45
During the present emergency the church will be open for services and generally from approximately 08.30 – 17.45 when a priest will often be available.
Nearest Underground stations:
Bank, Mansion House, St Paul’s
Buses: 8, 25, 242