St Mary Le Bow - The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks

St Mary Le Bow

• St Mary-le-Bow is a historic church in the City on the main east-west thoroughfare, Cheapside.

• According to tradition a true Cockney must be born within earshot of the sound of Bow Bells The sound of the bells of St Mary's is credited with having persuaded Dick Whittington to turn back from Highgate and remain in London to become Lord Mayor.

• Traditionally, distances by road from London are now measured from Charing Cross but before the late 18th century were, for instance, measured from the London Stone in Cannon Street, or the "Standard" in Cornhill. On the road from London to Lewes the mileage is taken from the church door of St Mary-le-Bow. To emphasize the reference used, mileposts along the way are marked with a cast-iron depiction of a bow and four bells.

• The church is also immortalised in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons which ends aside from the chopping couplets in many versions with “I do not know, says the great bell of Bow”.

• Archaeological evidence indicates that a church existed on this site in the Saxon period. A medieval version of the church had been destroyed in the late 11th century by one of the earliest recorded (and one of the most violent) tornadoes in Britain.

• During the later Norman period, the church known as “St Mary de Arcubus” was rebuilt and was famed for its arches or bows of stone to be found in the crypt and upon which the upper church rests. From at least the 13th century, the church was a peculiar of the Diocese of Canterbury and the seat of the Court of Arches, to which it gave the name.

• The church with its steeple had been a landmark of London and the ‘bow bells’, which could be heard as far away as Hackney Marshes were once used to order a curfew in the City.

• This building burned in the Great Fire of 1666. Considered the second most important church in the City of London after St Paul's Cathedral, St-Mary-le-Bow was one of the first churches to be rebuilt by Christopher Wren and his office for this reason. The current building was built to Wren’s design and was completed 1680. The tower and steeple with its distinctive dragon weather vane is the second tallest in the City. The mason-contractor was Thomas Cartwright, one of the leading London mason-contractors and carvers of his generation.

• In 1914, a stone from the crypt of St Mary-le-Bow church was placed in Trinity Church, New York in commemoration of the fact that King William III granted the vestry of Trinity Church the same privileges as St Mary-le-Bow vestry which was the forerunner to lower-tier of local government.

• A recording of the Bow Bells made in 1926 has been used by the BBC World Service as an interval signal for the English-language broadcasts since the early 1940s. It is still used today preceding some English language broadcasts.

• Much of the current building was destroyed by a German bomb during the Blitz on 10 May 1941, during which fire the bells crashed to the ground. Restoration under the direction of Laurence King was begun in 1956 (with internal fittings made by Faith-Craft, part of the Society of the Faith). The rood cross is from Oberammergau, given after the war as a symbol of reconciliation.

• The bells cast in 1956, were eventually installed to resume ringing in 1961.

• The church was formally re-consecrated in 1964 having achieved designation as a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.

• The organ is a two-manual and pedal design by Kenneth Tickell and Company, with design and construction initiated in 2004. It occupies the case of the previous Rushworth and Dreaper organ (from the 1960s).


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