St George Southwark - The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks

St George Southwark

• St George the Martyr lies within the modern day London Borough of Southwark on Borough High Street at the junction with Long Lane, Marshalsea Road, and Tabard Street.

• The church is one of six in the Parish Clerks’ Company roll named after Saint George. According to tradition, the saint served as a soldier in the Roman Army and was killed on the orders of the emperor Diocletian in 303 for refusing to persecute Christians and confessing to his own Christianity.

• The earliest reference to this church is in the Annals of Bermondsey Abbey, which claims that the church was given by Thomas Ardern and his son in 1122. The date follows the Battle of Acre when the St George myth became adopted by English crusaders; perhaps the church’s dedication is related to the Arderns' involvement in the Crusade. This gift included tithes from their manor at Horndon in Essex and "land of London Bridge returning five solidos". This statement means that this St George's is the first and the oldest church with such a dedication in the present London area and it predates Edward III's adoption of George as the patron of the Garter by over 200 years. The statement is also the first reference to London Bridge's endowment lands aslo known as the City's Bridge House Estates.

• On Henry V's return from the battle of Agincourt in 1415 he was welcomed by the Aldermen of London on the steps of the church. The 'Agincourt Song' was commissioned as part of the celebration. In this battle the standard with the red cross was used for the first time. In the same year St George became the patron saint of England.

• The present church is believed to be the third on this site and stands on the old route from the City to Dover. Originally there was a Norman church; inscribed stones from it were discovered in the second church. This was replaced at the end of the fourteenth century by a church with a bell tower, which may have been from where Antonin de Wyngaerde surveyed at least part of his plan view of London, which includes a drawing of the church, but slightly out of position. The church also appears to be that in William Hogarth's engraving of Southwark Fair made in 1733, a year before it was demolished. The church was rebuilt in a Classical style to the designs of John Price between 1734 and 1736, partly funded by the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches. The major City Livery Companies and the Bridge House Estates also supported this rebuilding; their arms decorate the nave ceiling and stained glass.

• The red brick and Portland Stone structure of the church has suffered from considerable subsidence damage, and the nave was declared unsafe in 2000, although services continued in other parts of the building. In September 2005, St George the Martyr received funding via the Heritage Lottery Fund for repairs and refurbishments, which involved complete underpinning of the building, and the lowering of the floor levels in the crypt to create additional space. A large number of lead Georgian coffins were removed from the crypt to allow the works to take place. Subsequent archaeological investigations of the ground beneath the church found substantial Medieval and Roman structures. The destruction of some archaeological remains before a fuller excavation could be completed led to controversy.

• The church has strong associations with Charles Dickens, whose father was imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea prison. The surviving wall of the prison adjoins the north side of the churchyard. Dickens himself lived nearby, in Lant Street, lodging in a house that belonged to the Vestry Clerk of St George's. This was during the darkest period of his life when, as a teenager, with his father in prison, he had to work in the 'blacking factory', and his literary career must have seemed an impossible dream. Later, he was to set several scenes of the novel Little Dorrit in and around St George's Church. There is a small representation of Little Dorrit in the east window of the church.

• From 2008 the annual Quit Rents ceremony, before the Queen's Remembrancer has taken place there.


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